Reportage. The scarcity of food is causing endless queues. Speculation is as out of control as inflation. The discontent of the population is obvious. Some American leaders believe they may now reap the rewards of 60 years of blockade.

Cuba is pushing aggressive reforms in the face of Biden’s brutal sanctions

More than 600,000 secondary school students are returning to school after almost two years. Major airports are reopening to tourism, as mandatory quarantine is eliminated. The Covid infection curve has been lowered thanks to the vaccination of 75% of the population with three shots of the nationally produced Abdala and Soberana 02 vaccines (by the end of the year, it is expected that almost the entire population eligible to receive the shots will be vaccinated). There are more than 300 new micro, small and medium businesses (known as Mipymes, using the Spanish acronym), mostly formed with private capital. A Virtual Fair will present new opportunities for foreign investors under the new Foreign Investment Law.

This is the beginning of “a new normal for Cuba” after almost two years of pandemic. A new beginning that the island sorely needs. Cuba is experiencing the worst economic crisis in 30 years. According to the Minister of Economy Alejandro Gil, between 2020 and September of this year, GDP fell by 13%. Compared to the past, the country is less prosperous economically, more dependent on external conditions, with less productive capacity, significant expanses of uncultivated land, and various industries, including sugar production, in chronic crisis.

Even the historical strengths of the socialist system, education and health, are suffering from the crisis. The production of books has slowed, there is a relative scarcity of teachers and access to the internet is poor. Medicines and technical facilities are lacking, and many hospitals are deteriorating.

During this period, the United States has implemented policies of interference aimed at “regime change” regarding the socialist government of the island, through destabilization measures and the imposition of sanctions which, although “directed against the government,” have mainly affected the population. These policies have been pushed to the limit by the Trump administration, and President Biden is continuing them: in recent days he has threatened new sanctions—with the support of Congress—if the government represses a demonstration “for peaceful change” that the Archipelago platform has organized for November 15.

This aggression from the north has strengthened the narrative used by the Cuban political leadership—the Communist Party and government—of “a country under siege,” as an argument to explain the dire economic situation and the difficulty of implementing “the modernization of the socialist system” announced in 2011 by then-President Raúl Castro.

The leaders employ this notion, according to some economists—Oscar Everleny and Juan Triana Cordovì from Cuba and De Miranda and Mesa Lago from abroad, among others—to avoid taking responsibility for the mistakes made in terms of economic policy. One example of such mistakes is the economic-monetary reform (Tarea Ordenamiento) launched at the beginning of the year, which, according to the admission of Marino Murillo, the person responsible for its implementation, has produced a 6,900% inflation of retail prices. This was an increase in the prices of goods and services caused not only by monetary factors (the overvaluation of the Cuban peso) but above all by the great scarcity of goods. That is, by structural problems that existed before the monetary reform.

According to Murillo, the country is in a dangerous spiral: prices are rising due to the lack of basic necessities, but due to the crisis and the pandemic that has blocked tourism and required massive investments to protect the population, the country does not have the funds either to reform the productive system or to buy these necessities from abroad. Hence the strategic importance of reopening to tourism and foreign investment as drivers for a recovery.

The social consequences of this crisis are there to see for all those who live on the island: the wages, although increased by the Tarea Ordenamiento (which foresaw an inflation rate around three times smaller than the current one), are not able to guarantee the possibility of making ends meet for a large part of the population. The scarcity of goods, especially foodstuffs (even in stores where they sell in Moneda libremente convertible, that is, in dollars), is causing endless queues. Speculation seems as out of control as inflation. The discontent of the population is obvious and, in the younger generations, it is open and generalized.

Compared to past years, these voices of discontent, even dissent and open opposition, are spreading and being fueled on social media, where the anti-Castro centers, in Miami and Madrid and in recent years also in Buenos Aires, are clearly predominant. Thanks, of course, to the millions of dollars they receive from NGOs, institutes and foundations more or less directly linked to the State Department or the CIA.

For many young Cubans, social media is their only contact with reality. In a country in crisis and marked by a lack of opportunities, despite the high proportion of university graduates and technicians, political activism risks becoming the only form of control that young people have over their future. Society is becoming more polarized than ever before. The demonstrations that happened in many places across the island on July 11 are evidence of this.

In the United States, not only the traditional anti-Castro forces in Florida and a large part of the Republican Party—in the process of becoming fascist, according to various analysts—but also certain parts of the Democrats and the State Department believe that the unilateral embargo is reaping the benefits sown in 60 years of sanctions. The deepening of the crisis in Cuba is causing discontent, and in the context of this discontent, dissenting activists are produced and recruited. After all, this was the purpose of the embargo since the days of President Eisenhower (1960): to produce hunger and discontent in order to cause a rebellion against the socialist regime.

A few days ago, Jack Sullivan, National Security Advisor, said that “circumstances have changed” as a result of the July 11 demonstrations in Cuba, and used this to try to justify President Biden’s choice of a hard line against the island’s government, in contradiction to what he had promised during his presidential campaign.

In this context, according to the analyst Harold Cardenas, “the future of the Cuban government depends on its ability to rebuild national support” around socialist reforms.

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