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  • Cuba, Protests, and Paths of Revolution
  • Joana Salém Vasconcelos1
    Translated by Liz Mason-Deese

The protests that took place on July 11 (11J) in Cuba generated a warning sign and a wave of heated debates among the international left about the challenges of the only living revolution on the Latin American continent.

Some analyses in solidarity with Cuba, however hasty, rushed to label the Cubans who were on the streets on the 11th as “mercenaries from Miami,” “counter-revolutionaries,” or mere “agents of imperialism.” According to that thesis, those protests were part of the United States’ strategy to destabilize the Cuban government by mobilizing anti-communist sectors of society using apparatuses of the cultural industry, slogans and hashtags on social media, that shape the typical scenario of a color revolution.

From the outset, however, this reading, despite containing elements of truth, proved insufficient for explaining the reality of the situation in Cuba. The events were more contradictory, heterogeneous, and difficult to analyze, especially from a perspective of solidarity with the revolution. The circulation of accounts from Cubans who directly witnessed the events of 11J (e.g., Colectivo, 2021; López Hernández, 2021; Rodríguez Milanés, 2021, Romero, 2021) soon showed that, despite the presence of anti-communist slogans (synthesized in the slogans “Patria y Vida” and “SOS Cuba”), many of the protesters who took to the streets were not counter-revolutionaries or mercenaries but common people worn out by the crisis of everyday life.

Cuba is facing a series of economic difficulties, starting with the structural effects of the U.S.’s blockade that, when added to the pandemic, the paralysis of tourism, and the challenges of domestic political economy, have given rise to a multipart crisis. Its concrete expressions in social life include shortages, lack of medication, long lines for food, rate increases, unemployment, unequal access to the Freely Convertible Currency [End Page 195] (Monedas Libremente Convertibles, MLC), and scarcities of basic necessities. These were intensified with the increase in the Covid-19 rate of contagion in June and July of 2021.

All of this exploded on July 11, 2021.

the protests and two government responses

It is worth noting that the protests started in San Antonio de Los Baños (province of Artemisa, 36 kilometers from Havana) and Palma Soriano (province of Santiago de Cuba, 50 kilometers from the province’s capital), municipalities that had been without electricity for a week, as highlighted by historian Ernesto Limia in an interview with La Iguana (2021). Without delay, that very July 11 president Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez addressed the first outbreak of discontent and spoke with protesters. According to the president, there he found “people of the people who have needs, who are experiencing these shortages, these difficulties,” who were “asking for an explanation, and the first thing they said was: I am a revolutionary, I support the revolution” (Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, 2021, para. 23). In the same speech, he described protesters as “revolutionary people who can be confused” (Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, 2021, para. 23).

With protests expanding to Havana and more than fifteen other cities that Sunday afternoon, however, the government’s response bifurcated along two distinct lines. On the one hand, the president’s move to speak to the first protesters provided a relative legitimacy to the discontent, mimicking Fidel Castro’s gesture of dialogue in the Maleconazo in 1994. On the other hand, faced with other outbreaks of protests, the government made strong accusations of interference from the United States, affirmed that the streets belonged to revolutionaries, and called for counter-marches to inhibit the protesters.

As part of this tactic of confrontation, the police apparatus was also called into action, arresting an undetermined number of Cubans, including some self-declared communists who later reported cases of abuse of authority (Hall Lujardo, 2021; Romero, 2021). On July 21, composer Silvio Rodríguez wrote on his blog Segunda Cita and his Facebook wall (Rodríguez, 2021, para. 3):

They asked me to call someone and request amnesty for all the prisoners. I remember the last time I requested amnesty. It was in the Anti-imperialist Tribune. One second before going...


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pp. 195-205
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