[guest post by Dana]
Havana wants the world to believe that Cuban hardship in healthcare is caused by the U.S. embargo. But food and medicine are exempt from the embargo. As Julie Chung, now acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted in April 2020, the U.S. “routinely authorizes the export of humanitarian goods, agricultural products, medicine, and medical equipment to support the Cuban people.” Ms. Chung further noted that in 2019 the U.S. exported millions of dollars of medical goods to Cuba.
Cuba’s real problem is that it’s broke. And while all poor countries in the region have struggled to serve the public during Covid-19, only Cuba has made things worse by trying to use the pandemic as a way to earn hard currency for the ruling elite and boost its legitimacy around the world.
President Díaz-Canel made an unplanned stop in San Antonio de los Baños on Sunday after police had cleared protesters, while Cuban government officials blamed the protests on “salaried agents” on Twitter.
President Diàz-Canel criticized the protests on Monday, calling demonstrators vandals who “broke into the stores and stole [many] items.” He reiterated that US sanctions were the cause of Cuba’s ailing economy.
He denounced vandalism by protesters, referring to it as “totally vulgar, indecent and delinquent behavior,” and blamed social media for weaponizing the economic crisis against the government.
The natives are restless, for sure, trapped in a nightmare scenario. The pandemic is raging and has all but killed Cuba’s tourist industry. The flow of free oil from Venezuela has become a trickle. The economy is in a nosedive; food is in short supply, and waiting in line has become an exhausting daily routine. Dissidents seem to be growing bolder, despite brutal repression. Daring young artists have staged protests, too, despite arrests and physical attacks on them from the minister of culture himself.
So, theoretically, yes, change is possible. But as any good historian or insurance actuary will tell you, theoretical possibilities fall into the realm of faith rather than reason, and it is safest not to expect miracles. Given all that has been set into place in Cuba, change is not likely any time soon, so the safest bet is to be highly skeptical.
I am reminded of what I wrote in 2015 when the U. S. Flag was raised over the Embassy in Havana for the first time in 54 years:
Unfortunately, for political dissidents and human rights activists, the [Secretary of State John Kerry’s] message rang hollow as they were not invited to attend the ceremony in spite of Sec. Kerry having acknowledged that it has been the activists and dissidents “at the heart of US foreign policy for decades.” Kerry rationalized the snub during an interview with Telemundo TV:
That is a government-to-government moment, with very limited space…
President Biden reiterated that America stands with the Cuban people:
We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.
This is deeply moving.
Watch as Cubans wave the American flag while marching against the island’s 62 year-old communist dictatorship on the streets of Havana.
— Giancarlo Sopo (@GiancarloSopo) July 11, 2021