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Protests die down, but problems remain: Cuba awakens after unrest

Many experts call the incident the largest anti-government rallies in the post-revolutionary history of the country

HAVANA, July 13. /TASS/. The rapidly spreading protests and riots that began on Sunday in several cities of Cuba at once, on the one hand, became an unpleasant surprise for the island authorities - everything started and developed very quickly, and some social media users even assumed that the situation could get out of control completely. Many experts call the incident the largest anti-government rallies in the post-revolutionary history of Cuba.

On the other hand, dissatisfaction with the existing problems in the country would sooner or later reveal itself somehow - the already sad economic situation of the people has seriously deteriorated during the pandemic, and the introduced sanitary measures, important as they are, have narrowed the window of opportunities for earning money and getting the necessary things.

A half-empty city and people wearing uniform

On Monday, Havana woke up in a peculiar situation: the increase in the number of police patrols is striking, officers in military uniform and civilians are on call in the city - members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, its offices have been in every district since 1959. There are not many people on the streets. Not only because of the ambiguous situation in the country, but also because it is raining lightly in Havana, which the Cubans still prefer to avoid. Police patrolling the capital very quickly react to any kind of unusual behavior, in their opinion, since, according to the authorities, the likelihood of various provocations is now quite high.

When preparing the material a TASS correspondent has repeatedly tried to take pictures of those guarding the streets, but even the official journalistic accreditation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the republic did not convince law enforcement officers in the correspondent's purely professional purposes. They urged not to take any pictures. In general, in Cuba and during "normal time" it is very undesirable to photograph people in uniform, and after the Sunday events, even more questions may arise. In a number of cases, there were people in civilian clothing nearby and, obviously, not out of simple curiosity, they watched what was happening.

By the way, it turned out to be quite difficult to transfer the photo to the editorial office - the Internet these days in Cuba does not work properly.

Communists — to the streets!

Numerous gatherings of people downtown are not observed during the day, however, in some places rallies are held in support of the actions of the country's leadership, and there is also agitation. There are huge flags of the republic, the revolutionary organization of Fidel Castro's "July 26 Movement" and the Union of Young Communists on the buildings - it is extremely important for the authorities to show that "the streets belong to the Revolution."

Those gathered at one of the demonstrations near the Havana administration building are watching a speech by the country's President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who a day earlier called on the defenders of the ideas of the Revolution to take to the streets "to prevent provocations against the state" on TV. In his speech, the leader stressed that the authorities did not consider the protests to be peaceful.

"The enemies of Cuba are trying to take advantage of the difficult situation in our country amid the pandemic. And this is in addition to the criminal genocidal blockade, which only intensified under the rule of [ex-US President Donald] Trump. We will not allow this, the street belongs to the people, the revolutionaries," a participant of the rally Suleidi told TASS. Monday morning newspapers came out with similar headlines.

Not far from the site of the demonstration, in the historic quarters of Old Havana, an employee of one of the cafes was less univocal. "What is there to hide, there are a lot of problems, the authorities need to do something about the situation. Many people want more opportunities to improve their lives. The restaurant business, for instance, to say the least, is tired of the COVID restrictions, and particular products are quite hard to find. But I think the protests are not something that would radically change the situation, this is not the best way," said a girl, who wished to remain incognito.

An attempted "Twitter"-revolution?

Diaz-Canel also noted in his speech that there was an active campaign on social networks against the island leadership from abroad. At the end of 2018, when the mobile Internet began to function in Cuba, many wondered: "Isn't it being used to organize a "twitter" revolution on the island, as its has already happened in many countries?" And it was social media that played a major role in the quickly escalating Sunday rallies.

From the experience of countries, where this technology has been used, it is known that protests must have a symbol or a slogan: in this case, at least two can be named. The hashtag #SOSCuba has appeared quite frequently on social networks in recent days, and one of the goals was to draw attention to the epidemiological situation in the province of Matanzas, east of Havana, where the maximum cases of COVID infection are now being recorded, and there is not enough medicine in hospitals. And this is a really big problem - it is not easy to find even aspirin in pharmacies now.

But the second subtext of #SOSCuba has to do with the demands for "humanitarian intervention" by the international community. And here everything is not that simple: the issue of the prestige of the health care system also has political significance for the Cuban authorities, and there are different "humanitarian interventions", as is well known, and their main goal is not always the delivery of humanitarian aid.

There are examples of distributing outright fake news. Up to the present moment, a photo of an allegedly full of protesters main embankment of the capital Malecon has been circulating in the feeds of opponents of the authorities on Twitter. However, once you examine the image more thoroughly, the inscriptions in Arabic and the flags of Egypt are quite distinguishable. But there are people, who do not scrutinize and take it for the truth.

Not by social network alone

The second slogan frequently used by protesters on the streets on Sunday is "Patria y vida" (Spanish for Motherland and Life), as opposed to the slogan of the Cuban Revolution "Patria o muerte" (Spanish for Motherland or Death). "Patria y vida" is a memorable, emphatically humane slogan borrowed from the eponymous song, in the lyrics of which the situation in the country and the policy of the official authorities are sharply criticized. The song was recorded by a tandem of performers, including one of the most famous Cuban bands Gente de zona ("Hente de sona").

It is noteworthy that not so long ago the team performed at many official events in the republic. Even in 2019 its participants shouted from the stage "Long live our president Diaz-Canel!", and later emigrated to the United States and from the stages in Miami began to shout "Down with the dictatorship!" Many in Cuba associate this with the logic "money does not smell".

A number of the group's songs are in the reggaeton genre, which is a kind of Latin American answer to hip-hop, and a significant part of the audience of this music genre is young people from not always prosperous social strata. It's not hard to foresee, whom exactly they want to organize via Twitter and music.

One cannot run away from problems

However, one should not assume that the outbreak of protests is the result of exclusively the actions of external and internal enemies of Fidel's heirs. There are a lot of economic problems in Cuba, the presence of which and fair indignation of a number of citizens the president admitted in his address. There is a shortage of food on the island, some products can only be purchased in foreign exchange shops, while it is almost impossible to buy foreign currency in banks. Previously, people on the black market bought dollars in cash at twice the official rate, but exactly before banks stopped accepting them a month ago. It has become more difficult to replenish a foreign currency card.

One cannot ignore the factor of restrictions introduced amid the pandemic: this year, many salespeople brought some of the equipment and products from Russia - one of the few destinations, where Cubans do not need a visa to enter, and flights are carried out relatively regularly. However, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health Francisco Duran recently announced that those coming from abroad will have to be placed in a 14-day quarantine in a free observatory or a paid hotel. An even more sensitive limitation is only one piece of imported baggage per person, which in the case of shuttle traders kills the entire business.

The light at the end of the tunnel must be on

And finally, power outages. In summer, in conditions of high humidity and tropical heat, it is especially difficult to live without ventilation of the premises, and the products that people managed to buy after standing in line for an hour in the store, deteriorate in a refrigerator that has not been working for a long time. According to information from social networks, the protests that became the catalyst for mass demonstrations in the city of San Antonio de los Baños south of Havana began, among other things, due to a prolonged power outage. The authorities do understand the exceptional importance of this issue — this was the first matter the president touched upon in his address to the nation, promising to establish electricity supply.

The factor of mass blackouts has entered the minds of Cubans since the 90s of the last century, when electricity could not be available for eight or more hours a day. And it was in 1994, at the height of the economic crisis after the collapse of the socialist regime, that anti-government demonstrations took place on the Malecon embankment in the area of Central Havana municipality. Then the problem of protests was solved with the direct participation of Fidel Castro, but since then, when any planned power outages occurred, there is always electricity in Central Havana.

Another problem

Given that all these difficulties are the realities of any region of the Caribbean country, the information about open protests quickly spreading on social networks played the role of a match thrown in a haystack. The illusion "we can do anything" created on the Internet prompted many protesters to take more radical actions, such as throwing stones at the police, overturning patrol cars and smashing shop windows, which is symbolic, of foreign exchange shops with the subsequent removal of everything inside.

One way or another, one more problem has been added to the large number of problems the leadership of the island is facing - the fact of open demonstrations by opponents of the current course in several cities at once. It would be naive to believe that one would attempt such rallies again, whoever this is.