Cuban People Protest Increasing Hardships and Repression; U.S. Imperialist Vultures Smell Blood



Editors’ Note: The exact political character of recent protests in Cuba—and sometimes even the basic facts—are not completely clear, mainly because the U.S. government, media and other reactionary forces are consciously trying to create a “narrative” about what is going on that will serve the interests of these reactionary forces. The Cuban government is also putting out its own self-serving narrative, and trying to suppress anything that contradicts it.

But even with this shortage of “reliable witnesses,” we know enough to address the basic situation, and the most important questions that arise from it.


1) U.S. imperialism has no right to threaten, intervene, or in any way act to bring about “regime change” in Cuba, and people in the U.S. must oppose any such moves. For over a century and right up to the present time, U.S. imperialism has caused untold misery for the Cuban people. The “freedom” the imperialists champion is the freedom to exploit, control, and plunder. The long-standing economic embargo imposed by the U.S. on Cuba is unjust and unconscionable.

2) The demonstrations and protests that broke out this month are a mix of righteous protest against and indignation at the oppressive economic and repressive political and intellectual conditions in Cuba—and of reactionary, pro-U.S. sentiment and mobilization. It is not a settled question at this point as to where this will go and what forces will come to the fore.

3) Cuba is not a genuine socialist country—though it calls itself socialist. The solution to the problems of Cuban society is neither to come under the wing and domination of U.S. imperialism, nor simply to hunker down to defend this regime from the U.S. Rather, the solution is to forge the road and fight for a genuine socialist revolution guided by the emancipatory new communism developed by Bob Avakian.


What Is Happening on the Ground in Cuba?

On Sunday, July 11, protests involving thousands of people broke out in multiple towns and cities across Cuba. While mainly peaceful, some erupted into clashes with riot police and pro-government civilians. Police reportedly used tear gas and pepper spray in some places, and there are unconfirmed reports that police opened fire in some cases. There were at least dozens, and perhaps hundreds of arrests. One protester is confirmed to have been killed under unclear circumstances, and there may be several other deaths. Some demonstrations also took place on July 12.

These protests expressed the deep anger of a large section of Cuban people over hardships they face. An economic crisis1 has led to severe and persistent shortages of food and other goods. Often people have to wait on lines for hours every day to buy basic necessities. There are also shortages of medicine in the midst of a major upsurge of COVID infections.2 Along with this, longstanding government repression of protest, and of artistic and journalistic freedom has grown worse in recent years,3 and rebellious artists seem to have played an important role in stirring these demonstrations.

All this combines to give an “anti-government” thrust to the protests, with many people demanding that the current president of Cuba step down. There is some “anti-system” sentiment, which Cuban people generally—and wrongly—believe to be a socialist system. The Cuban government has responded to all this with a combination of repression and some concessions, such as temporarily lifting taxes on imported food and medicine.

Again, the exact character and direction of all this is unclear. But what is very clear is that U.S. imperialism sees a big opportunity to bring Cuba back under its thumb, and is painting a picture of the protests as if they were essentially pro-American.

The demonstrations were quickly hailed by President Biden,4 and characterized by U.S. media as a “potential turning point” in the struggle against the “communist” government, reporting that “People felt what it’s like to scream freedom in the streets of Cuba.” The New York Times gushed excitedly about actions it would condemn if they occurred in the U.S.: like “people looting from one of the much-detested government-run stores, which sell wildly overpriced items in currencies most Cubans do not possess.”

And U.S. media have broadcast the demand of the vile reactionary Cuban exile forces in Miami for U.S. military intervention. Even Miami Mayor Francis Suarez suggested U.S. airstrikes are “a potential option” that should be “explored.”

While actual military intervention does not seem likely at this point, the U.S. is definitely trying to parlay this popular discontent into “regime change” that will bring to power a government that is fully compliant with U.S. economic, political and strategic interests.

U.S. Imperialism Is Part of the Problem Confronting Cuba, Not Part of the Solution

As Raymond Lotta pointed out in 2014 in “Behind the Re-Establishment of U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Relations” (which is well worth reading in its entirety):

For more than 100 years, the United States has caused incalculable misery and suffering for the Cuban people. Cuba came under the domination of U.S. imperialism as a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Cuban people had been fighting for their independence from Spain, but the U.S. seized on the situation to bring Cuba under its control.…

The U.S. landed marines in Cuba four times in the early 20th century.… By the 1950s, the U.S. controlled 80 percent of Cuba’s utilities, 90 percent of its mines, close to 100 percent of the country’s oil refineries, 90 percent of its cattle ranches, and 40 percent of its sugar industry. Sugar plantation workers faced incredibly oppressive conditions—slave-like labor punctuated by periods of unemployment. Cuba also became an investor's paradise for U.S. gambling syndicates, real estate operators, hotel owners, and mobsters. U.S. businessmen and travelers would frequent Havana, the capital of Cuba, as a sex tourism center. There were some 100,000 prostitutes in the country! The U.S. gave economic and military backing to one hated regime after another to enforce these political, economic, and social relations.

These horrors were the backdrop for the Cuban revolution that came to power in 1959. This horror show is what has been extolled by Cuban exiles in Miami and the U.S. propaganda machine as the “lost Cuba.”

Lotta brings out that the Cuban revolution was “just and popular,” and that its success—right on the doorstep of the U.S.—inspired millions around the world.

But it did not fulfill its promise. Contrary to the self-serving rhetoric of the Cuban—and U.S.—leaders, Cuba did not take the road of socialism, and did not make a break with imperialist domination as a whole. Faced with very real threats of U.S. attack, the Cuban leadership threw in with the Soviet Union (which had ceased to be a socialist society in the mid-1950s.)

How to Understand the Current Crisis of the Cuban Economy

Lotta says:

Before 1959, Cuba had been a “monoculture”: an economy based on sugar production for the world market, dominated by U.S. imperialism. [But after the revolution] Castro did not lead and mobilize the Cuban people to radically restructure this economic legacy. Instead, the Cuban leadership sought a “quick fix.” Sugar would remain king of the Cuban economy, and the Cuban economy would remain hostage to the world market. But in place of the United States, Castro looked to the social-imperialist Soviet Union as its market for sugar and its chief source of credit.

So while the sanctions and embargo imposed by the U.S. have caused immense difficulties and hardships for the Cuban people, the U.S. embargo is not the principal cause of the crisis in Cuba.

The main cause is that the Cuban economy remains dependent and distorted, its ups and downs tied to and driven by the world imperialist system. Instead of being organized around producing to meet the all-around material and social needs of the people, the Cuban economy is geared to producing for the world imperialist market.

A sharp example of this is that Cuba, with its extensive agriculture, imports 70-80 percent of its food! The leadership and government of Cuba did not prioritize development of agriculture to meet the population's nutritional needs; it focused massively on selling sugar.

Another example, Cuba has become highly reliant on tourism, which makes up about 10 percent of the economy. The money generated by tourism is then used to finance health care and food purchases. So when the COVID pandemic brought world travel to a grinding halt, the ability to meet people’s basic needs disintegrated, greatly sharpening the crisis in Cuba.

Another aspect is that the part of the labor force that caters to tourists also gains certain benefits (such as readier access to foreign currency) and this in turn contributes to widening social inequalities in Cuba. Even worse, the distorted reliance on tourism has heightened the oppression of Cuban women, who increasingly find that “sex tourism”—prostitution—may be the only way to support themselves and/or their families.

And all this makes Cuba's economy very vulnerable to international conditions. From the 1960s until 1990–91, Cuba’s economic survival rested on its relationship with—its economic dependence on and assistance from—the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990–91, Cuba went into a deep crisis. In more recent years, Cuba relied on oil and financial assistance from Venezuela. But in the last decade, Venezuela itself went into crisis, and could no longer play that role, which sharply undercut Cuba's economy, a major factor in the current hardship and unrest.

This is not how a genuine, revolutionary socialist economy would operate. This is not a vibrant revolutionary society in which the masses of people are increasingly becoming the masters of society. Rather, Cuba is a kind of repressive welfare state.

But as Lotta points out, even though Cuba “did not go on to break the stranglehold of world capitalism-imperialism” nor “launch a genuine liberatory social revolution,” it did break out of the U.S.’s control. And “the U.S. imperialists never reconciled themselves to [this] defeat.” [Emphasis added.]

This is the nub of the current contradiction.

On the one hand, the very existence of a country that had broken out of its grip was and is intolerable to the U.S. For 60 years, the U.S. launched invasions, assassination attempts, and other attacks on Cuba. For almost the entire 60 years it has had an embargo in place blocking virtually all trade with Cuba5—this has had a crippling effect on Cuba’s economy, including on supplies of vital medications—one of the key things now driving people into the streets in protest!

On the other hand, because Cuba had not developed a revolutionary socialist society and had not broken with the domination of imperialism worldwide, it could not solve the basic problems of the society and the masses, including those created by the U.S. embargo. These problems have escalated and deeply impacted the lives of the masses. And all of this has sharpened up in the last few years.

The Need to Forge a New Road

While the mix of forces involved in organizing, leading and participating in the recent protests is unclear (and almost certainly includes some outright reactionary forces, though their degree of influence is also unclear), it’s clear that thousands are angry about intolerable conditions. But insofar as the road forward is framed and posed as “support the ‘socialist’ government” or “return to being a neocolony of the U.S.,” the masses will basically be pawns of oppressors and the future will be a bitter and demoralizing one.

Cuba—and the world as a whole—cries out for a different future, that of genuine socialist revolution aiming for the abolition of all forms of oppression, not playing musical chairs with bankrupt and oppressive systems.


1. Cuba’s economy shrank by almost 11 percent in 2020, and another 2 percent in the first six months of 2021. The main causes of this are the collapse of tourism—a major sector of Cuba’s economy—due to the COVID pandemic, and harsh economic sanctions imposed by Trump, which Biden has so far continued. [back]

2. Even so, healthcare in Cuba is better than in most countries in the global South. Its COVID vaccination rate puts it in the top third of all countries.[back]

3. According to the International Press Institute, under a 2018 regulation, “artists and intellectuals are required to obtain state approval before showcasing their work.” A 2019 rule established fines for spreading information “contrary to the social interest, the morals, good manners and the integrity of people.” And a February 2021 regulation banned independent journalism as a legal form of self-employment. [back]

4. On July 8, Biden issued a statement that “The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights.” [back]

5. In 1961, the U.S. financed and directed an invasion by 1,300 Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs, which the Cuban people defeated. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. threatened Cuba with nuclear attack. In 1976, the CIA admitted to involvement in eight out of the hundreds of plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, often involving the Mafia or reactionary Cuban exiles in Miami. And from 1960 up to the present, the U.S. has imposed an almost continuous embargo, blocking Cuba’s ability to have normal trade with Western countries, to obtain needed medicines and agricultural and industrial goods. [back]

Thousands of anti-government protesters march in Havana, July 11. This was one of many protests across Cuba against food shortages and repressive political and intellectual conditions. Photo: AP  



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