Cuba experienced demonstrations over the weekend in which people took to the streets to protest economic shortages and a surge in Covid-19 cases. At CODEPINK, we support the right of people anywhere to protest peacefully. However, we vigorously denounce the outrageous and irresponsible calls for U.S. intervention coming from some Cuban Americans, including Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
We also denounce the Biden administration’s policy towards Cuba. For six months, it has been “reviewing” its policy, all the while continuing Trump’s strategy of economic warfare that is designed precisely to create the shortages Cubans are now experiencing. We call on President Biden to take immediate action to ease the economic crisis in Cuba by lifting the restrictions on remittances that prohibit Cuban Americans from sending critical financial support to their loved ones. Then there must be a rollback of ALL Trump sanctions and a return to the Obama policy of normalization.
The protests in Cuba should be understood in the context of a brutal economic war waged by the United States against the island nation for over 60 years. This was laid out clearly by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in 1960, when he explicitly called for “denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” There was a brief opening under President Obama, but the Trump administration reversed this, tightening sanctions on tourism, energy, and other key economic sectors. It even restricted the amounts of money Cuban Americans can send home and closed the Cuban branch of Western Union, the main vehicle for sending remittances. These policies have had a disastrous impact on the Cuban economy, especially when the Covid-induced shutdown of the tourist industry has deprived the island of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. The result has been a severe shortage of medicine, food and other basic needs.
The U.S. blockade of Cuba, just as its sanctions on Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua, Syria and others, is designed to hurt ordinary people to the point where they feel they have no choice but to rebel against their own government. It is coupled with a strategy of promoting opposition by funding dissident groups through USAID to the tune of about $20 million a year, and broadcasting an endless stream of anti-government propaganda. The US-funded Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs the opposition networks Radio and TV Martí, has over 100 employees and an annual budget of about $28 million. Imagine the outcry if Cuba were pumping $50 million into the United States to fund regime change!
The propaganda extends beyond radio and television into social media. The hashtag #SOSCuba began trending in Florida days before the protests began, suggesting that there was a coordinated campaign to target the Cuban government and blame it for the hardships the Cuban people are facing. Ostensibly, this hashtag was used to denounce an increase in Covid-19 cases in the city of Matanzas. However, this surge—as onerous as it is on the people of Matanzas—should also be kept in perspective. Cuba, a nation of roughly 11 million people, has had under 240,000 cases of Covid-19 and 1,537 deaths. For the sake of comparison, Ohio, which has a similarly sized population, has had 930,000 cases and over 20,000 deaths. Despite the shortages, Cuban health policy has protected the population from the worst of the pandemic.
Additionally, Cuba has already proven that two of the five Covid-19 vaccines that it is developing are successful in preventing coronavirus infections. The slow rollout of Cuba’s vaccination campaign, which has seen 20% of its people receive full doses, is due to the U.S. embargo. CODEPINK and partner organizations have been denouncing this for months, which is why over $500,000 dollars has been raised in a campaign to buy and send syringes to Cuba for its vaccination campaign.
While Cuban protesters are blaming their government for the shortages, we agree with the stance of the counter protesters who are blaming the US government. We expected that when Biden entered the White House, he would immediately return to Obama’s policy of engagement, as he promised on the campaign trail. It is criminal that Biden is maintaining these cruel sanctions when, with a stroke of a pen, he could lift all of the coercive measures that Trump put in place. Biden is putting crass political calculations that deal with domestic politics ahead of the well-being of 11 million Cubans.
If the shortages and ensuing protests continue to mount, there will be an increase of Cubans trying to reach the United States. This has the potential to become a crisis that can damage the administration, given how sensitive a topic migration has become. Further, unrest and a greater number of migrants could derail attempts to push President Biden towards reengaging with Cuba. Yet it is clear that the way out of this situation is precisely more engagement and an immediate reversal of the Trump sanctions.
At CODEPINK, we remain steadfast in our belief that the best way to help the Cuban people in this time of need is to end the U.S. embargo and stay out of Cuba’s internal politics. Join us in our call to the Biden administration to take action now!