After unprecedented protests, what future for Cuba?

Havana (AFP)

A week after unprecedented anti-government protests in communist Cuba, superficial calm appears to have returned to the island.

But experts told AFP that discontent will continue to simmer unless people see a marked improvement in their economic conditions and political rights.

Analysts are looking at possible scenarios for the future.

– Repress? –

With cries of “we are hungry”, “down with dictatorship” and “freedom”, the July 11 protests spontaneously erupted in the city of San Antonio de los Banos before spreading like wildfire to quarantine. other places, including the capital Havana. .

The protests lasted just over a day, killing one, injuring dozens and more than 100 arrests.

Cuban political scientist Rafael Hernandez predicts that the Communist authorities, accustomed to controlling all aspects of life in Cuba, will now seek to identify and closely monitor political opponents.

“I would expect them to keep them under strict surveillance and if they issue another call to action, stop them,” he said.

Rafael Rojas, a Cuban historian living in Mexico, said there would be a “neutralization process” of those behind the protests.

“An operation has been launched to identify possible leaders.

This may not be enough to avoid “another social explosion, but maybe not dimensions that we have seen,” Rojas said, adding that any future explosion would likely be “more localized.”

– Economic reform? –

The protests were largely motivated by a population fed up with shortages of food and medicine amid a peak of the coronavirus epidemic in Cuba and the effects of its worst economic crisis in 30 years.

Three days after the protests, President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced measures to calm the atmosphere, allowing people to bring food and medicine into the country without paying import duties.

Hernandez said the government would likely take further emergency measures to ease the shock of the economic crisis.

But it is the economy itself that must be revived, in particular by loosening the grip on private enterprise in order to support growth and employment.

Earlier this year, the government expanded the number of activities in which private entrepreneurs are allowed to operate and gave the interim green light for small and medium-sized businesses, albeit limited to certain sectors.

The government is historically Cuba’s largest employer.

Havana was employing “a gradual release tactic to release the pressure,” said Mauricio de Miranda Parrondo, an economist at the Pontifical Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia.

But “it is a failed tactic because it does not strategically solve the country’s problems,” he added.

– Political freedoms? –

The Cuban government has also nodded to greater political freedoms.

Yet after a few hundred artists and intellectuals staged a rare protest for freedom of expression outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana, many were relegated to their homes by the police and their communications cut off.

A new Cuban constitution approved in 2019 recognizes the rights to freedom of expression, public protest, and membership in civil associations, but without obvious means for people to assert them.

Undertaking “civil rights reforms seems to me to be welcome both outside Cuba and in Cuba,” Rojas said.

– Better relations with the United States? –

One of the main contributors to Cuba’s dramatic economic collapse is the tightening of US sanctions under Donald Trump’s administration after years of appeasement and easing of the blockade under his predecessor Barack Obama.

Cuba has been under US sanctions since 1962 and was hoping for easing under Joe Biden, who did not come.

While Biden had vowed during the election campaign to bring back some of Obama’s policies and seek normalization of ties, his administration has yet to reverse Trump’s last-minute requalification of Cuba as the sponsor state of terrorism. .

And the quest for a better relationship may have been hampered by Havana’s response to the biggest protests since the Cuban revolution of the 1950s that brought Fidel Castro to power – authorities arresting dozens. Many are still detained.

Last week, Biden said of the events: “Cuba is unfortunately a failed state and (is) repressing its citizens.

“There are a number of things we would consider doing to help the Cuban people, but that would require different circumstances or a guarantee that they would not be exploited by the government.”

– Exodus? –

The last major demonstrations in Cuba took place in 1994. These were also against the economic difficulties but were limited to the capital and quickly repressed by the police.

At the time, some 34,000 Cubans left the island for the United States in a month – courtesy of Havana.

The migrants were welcomed to Florida in 1994, but this time the United States has said it will not agree to a repeat.

De Miranda, the economist, said the coronavirus pandemic makes mass migration unlikely anyway, and the Cuban government likely wouldn’t allow a mass exit of its citizens this time around for fear of irritating more Washington.

About Warren Dockery

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