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The internet is back on after Cuba’s largest protests in decades. What’s happening now?

Why were people protesting? How has the government responded?

People march in the streets of Miami during a protest in solidarity with thousands of Cubans.
People march in the streets and wave Cuban flags during a protest in solidarity with thousands of Cubans who took to the streets in various locations in Cuba, in one of the largest protests to take place on the island, at Versailles Cuban restaurant off 8th Street in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, on Sunday, July 11, 2021.
Daniel A. Varela, Miami Herald via Associated Press

Protests erupted across Cuba on Sunday, July 11. Thousands took to the streets to rally against the government and worsening living conditions in the county’s largest protests in decades, reported CNN.

  • Cuba is an island country led by a communist government that maintains strict control of the economy and civil liberties, explained the BBC.
  • Some have called Sunday's events the biggest day of protest since the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, reported The New York Times.

In the wake of Sunday’s protests, the Cuban government has sought to repress dissidents through arrests, detainments and internet shutdowns, according to The New York Times. Some see the protests as a turning point for the country.

What were the Cuba protests like?

“While the crowds of protesters do not look particularly large, the significance of thousands of Cubans taking to the streets across the country can hardly be overstated,” reported the BBC on Monday. The protests were also historic for the broad range of people involved, many of whom had never been part of demonstrations before, per The Washington Post.

  • According to a map from the BBC, protests erupted in 30 places across Cuba on Sunday.
  • This included Cuba’s capital city of Havana as well as smaller cities. Protesters in smaller cities faced a greater risk of consequences since they will be easier for authorities to identify, reported the BBC.
  • One person in Havana was killed on Monday during the demonstrations, reported CNN.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel gave a televised address Monday in response to the protests, per Fox News. Speaking to citizens who supported the communist government, he said, “the order to fight has been given — into the street, revolutionaries!”

  • Because protesters livestreamed their activities on social media, the Cuban government will have a hard time hiding the discontent, per BBC.
  • Videos on social media and witness reports showed security forces beating and detaining protesters well as using tear gas against protesters, per Fox News.

The largest anti-government protests occurred Sunday with smaller protests continuing into the week, although communication blackouts have made this unclear, reported CNN.

  • The Washington Post confirmed Wednesday that some smaller protests took place on Monday. By Wednesday, no further protests were reported.

Why are people in Cuba protesting?

Protesters in Cuba have given three reasons for the recent demonstrations, per the BBC:

  • Cuba’s economic collapse.

Last year, Cuba’s state-controlled economy shrank by 11%, the largest decline in almost three decades. The pandemic — specifically the lack of tourism — U.S. sanctions and a small sugar harvest all added to the economic crisis. Now, people face a lack of food and medicine, per Fox News.

  • Restrictions on civil liberties.

Protesters on Sunday called for “freedom,” per the BBC. A general call for the end of the Cuban dictatorship and the expansion of civil liberties. Under Cuban law, protesters could easily be jailed for participating in anti-government demonstrations.

  • The government’s handling of the pandemic.

Sunday, Cuba reported its highest single-day number of new COVID-19 cases — nearly 7,000 cases and 47 deaths, per the BBC. Protesters demanded a faster vaccination rollout to curb outbreaks.

Why did Cuba’s economy collapse?

Sunday’s protests were greatly fueled by Cuba’s economic crisis, reported NBC News. The country’s economic collapse has left an increasing number of people unemployed and frustrated by the government’s failure to implement economic reforms.

  • Cuba’s economic collapse came from a combination of decadeslong U.S. sanctions and ongoing embargo as well as the Cuban government failing to implement market reforms that other communist countries have adopted, NBC News reported.
  • When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Cuba shut its borders and implemented a strict lockdown that slashed tourism and devastated the already fragile economy, said NBC News.

How is the Cuban government responding to protests?

On Sunday, the Cuban government enacted an internet shutdown, forcing a communications blackout, per The New York Times. By Wednesday, limited internet access had begun again, reported The Washington Post.

  • Some social media platforms and messaging apps are still blocked. This includes Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, BBC reported.
  • The internet shutdown made information difficult to attain. Many details about the conditions on the ground in Cuba remain unclear, per The New York Times.

Cuban security forces have arrested more than 100 people, according to CNN. The government has not given an official report about how many people were injured or arrested following the protests.

  • Human rights groups say that it will take several days to get a full understanding of the government’s response to the protests, per The New York Times.
  • Preliminary reports from human rights groups have recorded anywhere from 150 to more than 200 people arrested or missing after Sunday’s protest, The Washington Post reported.
  • Images and videos of Cuban security forces breaking into people’s homes and arresting suspected protesters have begun to circulate on social media, per The Washington Post.
  • Security presence in Havana remains heavy, The Washington Post reported.

It is still unclear if those arrested will be released in a few days or if they will become the newest generation of long-term political prisoners, said The New York Times. Still, activists in Cuba were greatly encouraged by recent developments.

  • According to The New York Times, Cuban officials did appear shaken by the size and suddenness of Sunday’s protests.

Wednesday, Díaz-Canel addressed the nation and, for the first time, publicly criticized his government, per The Associated Press.

  • “We have to gain experience from the disturbances,” Díaz-Canel said per the AP. “We also have to carry out a critical analysis of our problems in order to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition.”
  • The Cuban government has temporarily removed taxes on imported food, medicine, toiletries and other hard-to-find items, reported BBC. Although this is a rare concession from the government, the action is seen as being too little, too late.

How is the U.S. government responding?

Numerous U.S. officials have already voiced their support for the protesters and their concerns about a government crackdown, reported The New York Times.

  • “The U.S. supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights,” said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan per Fox News.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Julie Chung, assistant secretary for the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, also tweeted their support for protesters.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden spoke about the situation at a press conference. “Cuba is, unfortunately, a failed state and repressing their citizens,” he said per CNN.

  • “There are a number of things that we would consider doing to help the people of Cuba, but it would require a different circumstance or a guarantee that they would not be taken advantage of by the government,” Biden said.
  • ”Communism is a failed system — a universally failed system,” he added per CNN.
  • Biden also said the U.S. was looking into ways to fully reinstate the internet in Cuba, reported CNN.

U.S.-Cuba relations have reached an all-time low, reports Fox News.

Many other international leaders have voiced their support for the protesters and their cause, per The New York Times.