PROTESTS erupted in Cuba a fortnight ago that bore worrying signs for supporters of the Communist state.
But as a month of anarchy comes to a close in Havana, it appears Miguel Diaz-Canel – and the Castro legacy – has survived another setback.
Cubans had been protesting against food shortages and rising prices, which resulted in ever-declining living standards.
Though the US blockade and punitive sanctions played a significant role, there were also government failures that were recognised by ordinary citizens. Indeed, the state started allowing travellers arriving in the country to bring in food, medicine and other essentials without paying import duties in response to the demonstrations.
But officials were also wary that outside forces could see the chaos as a chance to land a blow. US President Joe Biden called Cuba a “failed state”, while solidarity demonstrations flared up in Miami, where many exiled Cubans reside.
Former CIA analyst Fulton Armstrong told Redaction Report that the Cuban state, though aware of the threat from Washington, also knew that the underlying domestic happiness played a role in this month’s scenes.
“The government knows that, while the spark for the protests was provided by persons selected, trained, and funded by the United States, and while the social media communications network was similarly funded by the United States, the sparks those mechanisms threw off caught fire because widespread unhappiness created plentiful dry kindling,” he said.
“Government policies – the failure to grow the private sector faster and to provide basic goods and services through the hugely inefficient state sector – were a secondary cause.
“The damage done by Covid – eg, the total suspension of tourism dollars – and by the Trump/Biden sanctions – eg, the near-total suspension of remittances and American travel to the island – were the primary causes.
“It is likely that the Cuban Government – through a mix of pressures on the people (including arrests) and measures intended to address the people’s concerns – will muddle through.”
Venezuela’s struggles have also affected the island nation. For two decades the former has sent subsidised fuel to Cuba, but recent shortages has meant Venezuela has struggled to hold up its end of the deal, leading to blackouts and power shortages in its ally.
Mr Armstrong added: “People can’t take to the streets to protest Covid and Washington and Venezuela, so they, logically, protest the government.”
Though they are crying out for reforms, the Cuban people are also fully in opposition to the “Miami/Washington” vision, according to the expert.
Under Diaz-Canel, the island has made some market-based reforms (while still maintaining a Communist ideology), including opening up the private sector in February this year.
It may mean that, despite grumbles on the ground, there is a degree of understanding. Protestors are not calling for regime change – rather, they are seeking gradual reforms that will increase their quality of life.
Mr Armstrong said: “I think the record shows that most Cubans want evolutionary change, not the kind of change and system that Washington and Miami want.
“That’s a great asset for the government.”
When Fidel Castro passed and Diaz-Canel was handed the reins, the legacy of the revolution was in doubt. Though a lifelong patriot and dedicated to the Cuban cause, the name recognition had gone – as had the leadership’s sense of immortality.
“President Díaz-Canel, the politburo, and the government know that legitimacy no longer comes from leaders’ surnames and roles in the revolution 60-plus years ago,” Mr Armstrong said.
“Legitimacy and support will come from their ability to improve citizens’ lives. and they know that includes making important reforms.
“The fact is that Covid, US sanctions, the Venezuela mess, and Cuban bureaucrats’ obstructionism – in that order – have deprived them the resources and political support to make aggressive reforms.
“They face a real challenge, but, because most Cubans probably don’t embrace the Washington/Miami model of change, the government still has some space to deliver.”
Fulton Armstrong is a former CIA analyst and White House National Security Council expert on Latin America. He has served at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and is currently a senior fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies.
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