Cambridge, MA — Freedom is in the air and Cuba is at the crux of it. While Cubans have long felt the crushing weight of the United States embargo coupled with a government that has not been adequately providing for its citizens despite having a wide reach of control over their lives, the world has not heard their voices the way it is now. This new resurgence of activism is thanks largely in part to the young Cuban citizens who have seen what the policies of the past have done to the elders, and they’re destined not to repeat history.
Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuba has been at the mercy of its communist government and command economy. Protests and demonstrations against the two have been few and far between and stopped quickly by the government who largely controls how and what information is spread. That is why this new wave of activism is so unprecedented: Cuban activists are not giving up. When cellular and internet service was cut off to quell protesters, they did not give up and go home, but instead regrouped and continued the fight. Protesters have also received ample help from local artists who are part of the San Isidro Movement, as well as Cuban celebrities and artists outside of Cuba such as singer, Pitbull who called for people around the world to “stand up and step up” for Cuba’s liberty.
What Cuban protesters are calling for is not just access to basic everyday needs, but also an overhaul of the very system that allowed living conditions to get this bad in the first place: its mismanaged communist government. At first, things were good with Fidel Castro, but it took a turn for the worse 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. With its main ally and economic support system no longer in power, Cuba truly began to feel the effects of the many embargo sanctions against them, the biggest being the United States embargo. Now that Covid19 has destroyed what was left of their economic power from tourism, the Cuban people are desperate for change.
With social media networks at their fingertips, Cuba’s young people took to the streets on Sunday, July 11th to speak out against the poor living conditions that only worsened with the Coronavirus pandemic. Cuba’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism, was crippled by the pandemic when travel halted in March of 2020. Add to that a healthcare system that can no longer handle the growing amount of new Coronavirus infections, and you have an unbearable living situation: citizens struggling to stay afloat by standing in long lines for necessities such as food, water, and transportation while the government turns a blind eye to the needs of its citizens. Pre-pandemic living in Cuba was manageable although it was not ideal, now in the wake of the pandemic surging again, it’s clear that something needs to change.
Although the Cuban government has agreed to “temporarily lift restrictions on the number of toiletries, food, and medicine that Cuban citizens can bring back home when they take foreign trips” (NBC News) protesters say it’s not nearly enough. What Cuba wants is “libertad” or “liberty.” Yoaní Sánchez, a blogger and active critic of Cuba’s government tweeted: “No we don’t want crumbs. We want liberty. Blood has not run in Cuban streets to be able to import a few more suitcases.” It is clear what the Cuban people want and even more clear that they aren’t stopping until they get it.