Cubans have taken to the streets to protest the government’s poor economic management that resulted in extreme food and medicine shortages. The cause of this dire economic crisis goes back further than Castro. Its roots lie in America’s attempt to control rather than respect Cuba.

Desperation leads to dictatorship

To understand the protests we must consider the history between Cuba and America. The Spanish-American war was largely the result of a dispute over ownership of territory in the Americas. The Cuban people objected to Spanish colonial rule and were supported by the US. This support was given because it suited America’s interests, rather than out of any genuine desire to liberate Cuba — especially as pro-slavery Americans wanted to make Cuba a slave state. Although Cuba did gain quasi-independence, the US continued to control Guantanamo Bay and treated it largely as one of its colonies. With no consideration for the Cuban people, America intervened in Cuba’s domestic affairs to aid its own agenda. This was especially prevalent during the reign of dictator Fulgencio Batista, in the fight against Communism.

Batista’s rule was extremely oppressive and revoked many political freedoms. Despite this, he received military and financial support from the US. America wouldn’t intervene to prevent Batista’s tyranny because he was extremely anti-Communist. Intervening would serve no benefit to the US and their fight against ‘the reds under the beds’.

History has shown us that when people find themselves in desperate situations they seek any alternative, no matter how extreme. And so the oppressed Cuban people found themselves in one of these situations. When Fidel Castro arrived, ready to lead a movement against Batista’s oppressive regime, he unsurprisingly found little difficulty in gaining supporters.

The beginning of the end for the Communist Party?

America’s obsession with increasing its own power and its willingness to do this at the expense of poorer countries backfired unintentionally, with the Communist Party taking hold of Cuba. Ironically, if America had done the morally right thing and intervened against Batista’s oppression and corruption, Cubans may not have been so willing to accept Castro’s rule.

Now 60 years since the revolution and the Cuban people appear to have reached their breaking point. The average Cuban earns $39 a month. Many resort to the black market just to afford basic necessities. The black market usually conjures images of drugs and weapons. However, in Cuba, something as ordinary as buying a newspaper from a man on a street corner is illegal.

Years of poor economic management has resulted in the people calling for the resignation of Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s President. What is angering protestors further is the government’s unwillingness to accept their share of the responsibility. Politician Bruno Rodriguez stated that there has been no social uprising. At this point, denial is only going to make things worse for the government and the people.

A perfect storm

Between an unstable economic system, America’s trade embargo and a pandemic, it was the perfect storm for societal and economic breakdown. Tourism is a crucial component of the Cuban economy, but after March 2020 there has been a 75 per cent fall in international arrivals. Covid-19 has brought Cuba’s economic cracks to the surface. And though every country’s economy has taken a hit because of the pandemic, Cuba’s issues — which began before the Cold War — have simply been forced out into the open. What is happening today is simply the synthesis of a long-running process. 

Cuba’s reliance (perhaps even overreliance) on tourism began under Raul Castro’s leadership when more private licenses were given to those in the tourism industry. This created a small private sector and a country where a doctor makes $40 per month while a taxi driver makes $60 a day. This tendency led to highly skilled workers leaving their jobs in order to make more money.

America’s greed and competitiveness indisputably contributed to the Cuban people’s current woes. Cuba’s situation should be a lesson to the rest of the world about the importance of powerful countries putting their agenda aside to help when humanitarian issues arise.

To this day, Cubans are still feeling the effects of Spain’s colonial rule and the events that followed when America intervened. The work that Obama and Castro did to heal decades of poor relations was disrupted when Trump came to power and reinstated the embargo.

This recent bout of unrest will force Biden to consider what the future will hold in terms of relations between the two countries. Will history repeat itself or will Biden pick up where Obama left off?

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