The Cuban powder keg

One year after the July 11 uprising

April 26, 2022 — Hundreds wait in the massive food lines that have become a part of daily life in Havana. Courtesy photo.
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Twelve painful months have elapsed since tens of thousands of the poorest Cubans in scores of cities hit the streets on July 11, 2021. The spontaneous outburst of frustration was ignited by Covid lockdowns, astronomical inflation, and a lack of food, medicine, electricity, transportation, and wages to survive. It was the largest protest since the 1959 Revolution. While the ultimate culprit remains the U.S. blockade, many islanders place the blame on the unequal distribution of scarcity.

All we did was march. Cuba’s appointed president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, impervious to the people’s suffering, treated the uprising as a challenge to the authority of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). He proclaimed that his members “own the streets.” He issued an “order to combat” and commanded adherents to crush the youthful protesters, whose numbers included many of African descent and many women. Truckloads of club-wielding party members were dispatched to demo hot spots to break up rallies.

The president severed telecommunications to silence news of the protests. Over a thousand demonstrators were captured, sometimes beaten, and charged with delinquency or insulting the president. Some were accused of sedition, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. A young Black man, Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, was shot in the back by a cop. Days later, in grief, his mother committed suicide.

A revolution on the precipice. Since July 2021, Cuban health services have overcome Covid by vaccinating the entire population. But other conditions that led to the protests linger, and many have worsened.

Cubans spend hours every day in lines hoping to score something to eat from ill-stocked, over-priced state outlets. Much of the island endures lengthy blackouts, bringing workplaces, schools, and hospitals to a standstill and plunging tropical homes into darkness without ventilation. With meager food rations, few cleaning supplies, and the need to toil by candlelight, the time women spend performing domestic labor has tripled.

When Cubans expose and denounce the luxurious lifestyles of their ruling elites on Facebook, they are interrogated by political police. Those who persist face surveillance and harassment and possible job loss or expulsion from the country.

From October 2021 to May 2022, over 140,000 Cubans forsook hope and sold their worldly possessions to fund an escape from repression and destitution. The exodus continues, draining 1% of the population every six months.

Those without resources to emigrate are alternately seized with anxiety and despair. This June, Amelia Calzadilla, a young mother of three, gripped social media with explosive videos testifying to the hardships of maintaining her family without cooking gas, milk for her kids, and the ability to pay for electricity. A dozen moms followed suit with similar heart-wrenching testimonials. Some supporters of the PCC condemned Calzadilla as unpatriotic. But when many thousands voiced solidarity with the mothers, party leaders backed off.

Communist only in name. The PCC, the sole legal party, has abandoned all aspirations for socialism. It is moving to consolidate absolute power to ensure an orderly transition to capitalism that will enrich its top bosses and military chieftains. The PCC models its counterrevolution on the Chinese and Vietnamese “communist” parties that gifted collective means of production to loyalists who now derive spectacular private profits from exploiting the labor of their neighbors.

Yet the desire for socialism remains strong among a growing number of Cubans known as the critical left, or izquierda crítica.

Among them are revolutionaries in the Trotskyist internationalist tradition who confront bureaucratic privileges and corruption, challenge state repression, and demand freedom of speech. They agitate and educate for a socialist society, more equitable, democratic, and advanced than humanity has so far achieved. Their straightforward proposition to save and extend the Cuban Revolution is that those who actually do the work be in charge.

Yurisbel Martínez Suárez is a member of the Editorial Committee of

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