The situation in Cuba is serious. On Sunday 11 July, there were protests in various towns and cities in Cuba that have enjoyed widespread coverage in the international media (how could it be otherwise?) Where do these protests come from? What is their character? How should we, as revolutionaries, respond?
The protests began in San Antonio de los Baños, Artemisa province, 26 km southwest of the capital Havana. The immediate motivation for the protests, which brought hundreds of people to the streets in San Antonio, were prolonged and constant power outages. But this factor must be added to an accumulation of problems, which have become particularly serious since the beginning of the pandemic 16 months ago: shortages of basic products, shortages of medicines, the fall in the purchasing power of wages. Added to all of this is the worsening of the pandemic in recent days, with the arrival of new, much more contagious variants, at a time when only 15-20% of the population have been fully vaccinated, putting the healthcare system under a lot of strain in several provinces.
Clearly, there was a genuine component to the protest in San Antonio (something that President Díaz-Canel himself later recognised) that grew out of the real hardship facing the people. The slogans that brought hundreds of people out to the streets in San Antonio were “we want vaccines” and the demand for a solution to their immediate problems, which was put to the local authorities.
But we would be blind if we did not see that there was also another factor. For days there has been an intense campaign orchestrated by counter-revolutionary elements on social networks under the slogan #SOSCuba. The campaign has two aims. One, try to create a social uprising, protests in the streets, through the dissemination of exaggerated, biased or directly false information (for example about the health situation in Matanzas, the area most affected by the pandemic) and the abstract call to protest in the streets. Two, with the excuse of the health emergency situation (partly real, partly exaggerated) to promote the idea of the need for a “humanitarian intervention” by foreign powers to “help Cuba”.
The hypocrisy of the personalities (artists, musicians, etc.) who have promoted the campaign is incredible. Where was the campaign in favour of an “international intervention” in Brazil, or Peru, or Ecuador – all countries that have suffered Covid-19 mortality rates 10, 20 or 50 times higher than those of Cuba?
This hypocritical campaign is a clear attempt to justify a foreign imperialist intervention against the revolution, under the cover of humanitarian aid. We have seen this before, in Libya, in Venezuela, in Iraq. We know what is really behind these so-called “humanitarian interventions”: imperialism. We could not imagine a greater degree of cynicism. The same powers that apply a blockade against Cuba, which prevent it from trading on the world market, from purchasing medicines and supplies to manufacture them, are now demanding that the Cuban government open a “humanitarian corridor”!
A serious situation
At the protest in San Antonio de los Baños, some raised the slogan that has brought together the counter-revolution in recent months: “Homeland and Life” (“Patria y Vida”, in opposition to the slogan of the revolution of “homeland or death – we will win”). But according to reports from comrades there, they were not the majority: “Since yesterday, a call was made in a FB group in which the majority is Ariguanabense [locals], in order to protest against the blackouts of up to 6 hours that the town suffers. What started as something small, grew as they moved through the main arteries of the town. It was a very heterogeneous mass where various thoughts and ideologies surely coexist. I have seen that some launch the slogan “Patria y Vida” but the majority, I believe, is just going with the general flow."
Very quickly, the information about the protest in San Antonio de los Baños spread through social media networks, and was distorted and amplified by counterrevolutionary elements that were calling for similar protests to take place in other parts of the country. There are many rumors about this, and as is often the case, many of them are false, but it seems that there were protests in a significant number of cities and towns across the island. In these cases, the counter-revolutionary component (in terms of slogans, the people who encouraged them, etc.), was much more dominant than in San Antonio de los Baños. Apart from “Homeland and Life”, they shouted “Down with the dictatorship”, “freedom”, and so on.
In Camagüey, the protesters confronted a police patrol and ended up overturning a police vehicle. In Manzanillo, a comrade reported that very young teenagers were protesting on Maceo Street, the main artery going to the upper area of Manzanillo, which has been without water for seven days. The president of the city government arrived to try to establish dialogue. Expletives and insults were hurled, and finally there was also an exchange of stones between local revolutionaries and those protesting.
Another comrade described the events in Santa Clara, where two groups of no more than 200 people surrounded the police station and attempted to take over the headquarters of the Communist Party. Another group of about 400 people organised to repel them. According to this report, the protest was mainly composed of very young people, teenagers, and quite a few marginal elements. The slogans were “down with communism”, against Díaz-Canel, but many of those present only made an appearance, without shouting any slogans.
For his part, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the most prominent figures of the counter-revolution on the island, called for a gathering at the Malecón [sea front] in Havana. The call was echoed by the whole of the reactionary media in Miami and their social media networks, which are widespread in Cuba. During the afternoon, a group of less than 100 people gathered at the Malecón. Later, more people joined, forming a group of several hundred, in which it was difficult to distinguish between those who were protesting and those who were just watching to see what happened. The protest moved to various parts of the city, the Capitol, Revolution Square, etc. and it grew to a sizeable crowd of perhaps a thousand people. A comrade described the social composition as “very diverse”: “there were some who come from the people but also bourgeois-types, many marginalized elements, urban lumpen and young people”.
President Díaz-Canel appeared in San Antonio de los Baños, from where he made statements and later addressed the country in a televised address, in which he called on the revolutionaries to take to the streets to defend the revolution. This call was answered in various parts of the country, including in Havana. The international media obviously do not care to show this, because it does not fit with the idea that they want to convey.
To give some examples, here are scenes from a march in Belascoain:
There was a gathering of revolutionaries in front of the Museum of the Revolution:
Many more examples could be given.
There were also incidents, confrontations and stone throwing on the part of the counter-revolutionaries. A comrade who was in one of the rallies in defense of the revolution relates: “I was attacked. Now I also know what it is like to see an enraged mass walking towards you. I was afraid. They almost lynched me, they threw water, rum and they threw two stones at me, though they didn't hit me. I experienced several scenes of violence near me.” There were police interventions against the protesters and selective arrests.
It is clear that even in a very difficult situation of hardship and scarcity, the Cuban revolution still has a broad social base of support that, seeing the revolution come under threat, is prepared to take to the streets to defend it. Those who came out in defence of the revolution have also suffered the same conditions as those now protesting against it, and many may well also have criticisms of the government's management, of some of its decisions, and of the bureaucracy. But at the moment of truth, they know that they must come out to defend the revolution.
What do these events represent?
It must be said that yesterday’s protests are significant. Beyond the exaggerations of the imperialist media, these are the largest expressions of protest in Cuba since the 1994 maleconazo, and they come at a time of deep economic crisis in which the leadership of the revolution does not have the same authority as it had back then.
What are the causes of the economic and social crisis that Cuba is experiencing today? A series of historical problems are combined with other more recent ones. Among the first: the blockade, the isolation of the revolution in a backward country, and the bureaucracy.
Among the latter: the measures taken by Trump to further economically asphyxiate the revolution (policies which have not been reversed by Biden), and above all the impact of the pandemic (and its impact on tourism, one of the main sources of Cuba’s hard currency income). We discussed both of these factors in an article in October of last year.
To this must be added the impact of the measures taken by the Cuban government in January in response to this very deep economic crisis and also, in recent days, the strong increase in Covid-19 cases due to the arrival of new variants.
The problems are serious – very serious. But in order to give consideration to their solution, we have to understand their causes. First among these causes is the blockade. Second: the totally unequal relationship between the Cuban planned economy and the world capitalist economy. Thirdly: the pandemic and its economic and health impact. And finally, the impact of the bureaucratic management of the economy in terms of waste, inefficiency, indolence, etc.
Faced with this situation, what position should we as revolutionaries take? In the first place, it must be clearly explained that the protests called by Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and other related elements are openly counter-revolutionary, although they try to capitalise on a sense of malaise that emanates from the very difficult objective conditions. The problems and hardships are real and genuine. But the protests, under the slogan “Homeland and Life” and “Down with the dictatorship”, are counter-revolutionary. There are confused elements participating, to be sure. But in the midst of the confusion, it is inevitable that those who dominate these protests are, from a political point of view, counter-revolutionary. They are organised, motivated and have clear objectives. It is therefore necessary to oppose them and to defend the revolution. If those who promote these protests (and their mentors in Washington) achieve their goal – the overthrow of the revolution – the economic and health problems suffered by the Cuban working class will not be solved, but on the contrary, will be aggravated. You only have to look at Bolsonaro’s Brazil or neighboring Haiti to convince yourself of this.
In the struggle that is opening up in Cuba, we are unconditionally on the side of defending the Cuban revolution. Already, all the gusanos in Florida are demanding a military intervention in Cuba. In a press conference yesterday, the mayor of Miami, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, and Commissioner Joe Carollo (the former mayor of Miami), jointly requested Biden to intervene in Cuba “within the framework of the Monroe doctrine.”
But our unconditional defense of the Cuban revolution does not mean that we are uncritical. In the debate on the most effective way to defend the Cuban revolution, we clearly defend a class-based and internationalist perspective and are for workers’ democracy.
Secondly, it must also be clearly stated that the methods that the bureaucracy uses to try to face the problems confronting the revolution are inadequate, and in many cases counterproductive (see for example the Economic Reorganisation). Pro-capitalist measures weaken planning and state ownership, as well as increasing social differentiation and strengthening the capitalist elements on the island. This creates the social base for these protests. The absence of workers’ democracy, in addition to disorganising the economy, feeds indolence, disinterest and inefficiency.
The methods used by the bureaucracy in response to counter-revolutionary provocations are also in many cases themselves counterproductive. Censorship, bureaucratic restrictions, and arbitrariness do not serve to defend the revolution when what is needed is political discussion, revolutionary ideological rearmament, accountability and workers’ democracy.
Our slogans must be:
- Defend the Cuban revolution!
- Down with the imperialist blockade – hands off Cuba!
- No to capitalist restoration – for more socialism!
- Against the bureaucracy – for workers’ democracy and workers’ control!