Written by: Garrett Halak
The single-party authoritarian country of Cuba has experienced a shift in citizen attitudes related to human rights and democratic principles. While the dissident movement in Cuba has been around for a number of years, nonviolent protests were revived during 2021 within the socialist state. The dissident movement calls for the replacement of Cuba’s current government system with liberal democracy, equivalent to that of the United States. The July 11th protests echoed citizens’ resentment of the regime and exasperation with the current insecurity Cubans face surrounding food and medicine shortages and a lack of economic growth.
Communist in nature since 1959, Cuba’s government remains closely aligned with the “one state-one party” principle. The government holds the executive power and makes decisions that are ratified by the elected National Assembly of People’s Power. While the constitution allows citizens to exercise the right to protest and vocalize beliefs, much of the current regime inhibits such authority both directly and indirectly. This has entailed various citizens, like Mayda Yudith Sotolongo, to be “beaten” and left with “bruises on…[their] arms and back.” Moreover, much of Cuba’s media space remains censored, and the state has produced a virtual monopoly on media and print news. This inhibits the free flow of information within the state and continues to hinder citizens’ ability to freely express their views and seek unbiased information.
With the government suffocating dissent, the issues called into question have yet to be addressed. While only 25% of Cubans utilize the internet (as of 2016), they remain savvy as to circumvent censorship and disseminate information through social media. Henceforth, government sentiments echoed across the waters by Cuban social media users prompted many Cuban-Americans and even U.S. President Joe Biden to reprimand the poor conditions Cubans face. There has also been harsh criticism of the treatment of many protestors as hundreds remain behind bars awaiting hearings, while others currently endure lengthy jail sentences. Given the poor treatment of dissidents, many Cubans are fleeing the country, attempting to escape the unrelenting legacy of Fidel Castro. Since the start of the 2021 fiscal year, there have been over 512 Cubans at sea, much greater than the previous 49 seaborne immigrant interceptions in all of 2020.
Many see the most recent uprisings as more long-term, with the potential to occur again with greater force and length in the near future. For example, plenty of younger Cubans are now affiliated with Archipelago, led by Yunior Garcia. This youth dissent group requested government permission for a series of gatherings across various towns in Cuba set to occur on November 20th. These citizens feel it is necessary to exercise their guaranteed right, per the Cuban constitution, to protest.
This Civic March for Change was denied and prompted communist officials to announce three days of military exercises. While the government made this constitutionally baseless decision to stop the marches from occurring, this only emboldened dissidents who received verbal backing from the U.S.; many concede that they are “not afraid.” With an overwhelming majority opinion for a more democratic Cuba, Archipelago simply rescheduled these marches. Since social media is the main vessel for the spread of information in Cuba, many anticipate more censorship of social media, similar to what occurred in July, which is a traditional tactic used to stifle dissent. Cuba’s government sees these protests as largely fueled by social media.
With many Cubans ready to rally across different towns and vocalize dissent on issues relating to human rights abuses and the restriction of freedom, it is necessary for citizens to have sufficient living conditions and rights. With the government exercising internet censorship and creating disinformation relating to dissent movements, the United States must stick to its mission to issue uncensored media against Cuba’s oppressors. From ranking seventh in per-capita gross domestic product within Latin America in 1950 to being the third poorest country within Latin America in the 2000s, Cubans face blatant and unnecessary injustice. Extending resources including a greater degree of internet assistance to struggling Cubans is needed as a means to end this deplorable suffering.