A 36-year-old man died on Monday during a protest in the suburban neighborhood of Arroyo Naranjo, one of the poorest and most troubled in Havana. This was confirmed by a statement from the Cuban Interior Ministry, according to which the victim was part of a gang of people who attempted an assault on a police station after rampaging through the streets and setting fire to dumpsters and light poles. In the clash, there were several injuries, including a policeman, and arrests were made.
It’s difficult to get confirmed data to have an accurate overview of the dozens of popular demonstrations that have occurred throughout the island. On Wednesday, there was no Internet connection, but “news” continued to circulate, especially in the anti-Castro parts of social media, about more deaths and 150 arrested persons of which nothing more is known. The only arrest that could be confirmed was that of a journalist of the Spanish magazine ABC. Among the ranks of the opposition, applications are being used to evade the WhatsApp block and circulate photos of police violence which are difficult to confirm. The government website Cubadebate has provided clear evidence of fake images, coming mainly from outside the island and passed off as images of protests and brutal police interventions that supposedly took place in Cuba.
On Wednesday, the streets of Havana were under the control of numerous police forces. In the most problematic suburbs, the riot brigades have been deployed. In general, people are avoiding going out except for urgent necessities. The high tension is evident—and made even worse by the dramatic situation regarding Covid-19: on Wednesday, there were 6,080 infected and 51 dead, the highest numbers since the beginning of the pandemic.
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez reiterated the accusations that the United States was “directly involved” and had “serious responsibility for the incidents that occurred on July 11.” He added that Washington “will be responsible for the consequences that may occur if it continues its policy of strangling our country.”
One of the scenarios being floated was a possible direct “humanitarian” intervention by the U.S., something also wanted by the Cuban opposition. Bob Menéndez, the Democratic head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and main advisor to President Joe Biden on relations with Cuba, denied such a prospect: “We’re not going to have a military intervention in Cuba,” Menéndez said, confirming that the Biden administration is continuing its “review” of Washington’s policy towards Havana. In other words, the work of destabilizing the socialist government will be pursued only through the stranglehold sanctions passed by Donald Trump and maintained by the Democratic president.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the best-known exponent of the U.S. left, also blamed his country for contributing to the miserable conditions in which Cubans are living: “All people have the right to protest and to live in a democratic society … It’s also long past time to end the unilateral U.S. embargo on Cuba, which has only hurt, not helped, the Cuban people.”
That the island’s powerful neighbor to the north bears direct responsibility is also an item of consensus among those socialist intellectuals who have long called for the government to accelerate structural reforms. “The unprecedented protests on Sunday were predictable,” argues historian Ivette García González. “There were triggering factors, but the causes run deep.” Namely, they lie in the slowness of a reform process initiated by then-president Raúl Castro, with investments concentrated in the tourism sector at the expense of agriculture and social assistance.
García González is calling on the Cuban government to abandon all forms of repression and implement a policy of national conciliation to manage the emergency—regarding both Covid-19 and the food crisis—and provide a political solution to the conflict. This position is also supported by famous Cuban artists who are clearly not aligned with the opposition, such as the historic group Los Van Van, or musicians such as Adalberto Alvarez and Elio Revé, who have said they “stand with the Cuban people, who have the right to peacefully express their discontent and their aspirations.”
The composer Leo Brouwer was indignant at the fact that “the revolutionary police has used truncheons against defenseless people who have endured enormous difficulties for so long.” Nevertheless, along with the criticism, the artists are also calling for national unity to protect the Cuban Revolution and build a “better Cuba.” This is the historic challenge that the new-generation government that replaced the Castros is facing.