Cuba protests coronavirus
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4 Things to Know About What’s Happening in Cuba and How to Help

Cuban residents took to the streets of Havana and other towns to protest a decades-long dictatorship, food shortages, and an economic crisis as Covid-19 cases continue to spike. Live streams show protesters chanting “Freedom!” “Down with Communism!” and “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life) with at least 50 protests in different locations throughout the island, according to Inventario, a website tracking data in Cuba. The police were called to the protests though many have described it as a peaceful demonstration while the official press, the only media on the island, discredits the cause. One sign posted on Twitter reads, “When the people are forced to protest in the middle of a pandemic, it’s because the tyranny is worse than the virus”. Read on to understand what’s happening in Cuba and how you can help.

There’s a spike in Coronavirus cases and a lack of adequate care.

Cuba officially reported 6,750 cases and 31 deaths on Sunday, although opposition groups say the real figures are likely to be far higher, BBC reported.  Cubans have been documenting on social media the collapse of the health system in the province of Matanzas, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic on the island, The Miami Herald reported.  This has led to calls for the government to accept humanitarian aid as Covid-19 patients continue to go without basic care and necessities. BBC reported last week that Cubans they interviewed said some medical centers do not have any aspirin and there have been outbreaks of infectious diseases including scabies.

Cuba made its own COVID-19 vaccine and did not buy shots from other countries but they’ve been experiencing delays in immunizing the population. “My mother just died. We were in isolation for four days. Four days calling the SIUM (Integrated System of Medical Emergencies) to come and look for her. Four days and the SIUM did not arrive,” said Magdiel Matos outside a hospital in Matanzas, NBC News reported.

The economy has continued to deteriorate.

The pandemic caused the closure of airports slowing tourism down by 80 percent which drastically affected the economy as its the island’s second source of income.  A the start of 2021 the government proposed a new package of economic reforms that increased wages but also increased prices. Pavel Vidal, from the Pontificia Javeriana University of Cali in Colombia estimates that prices could rise between 500 percent and 900 percent in the next few months, BBC reported.

Cuban President Miguel Diàz-Canel blamed the economic issues on sanctions from the US, which President Biden has yet to address. The Trump administration enacted some of the toughest economic measures against Cuba in decades, the Biden administration has yet to lift them, CNN reported. However many on social media have said the sanctions don’t include humanitarian supplies.

“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” Biden said in a statement.

Government Censoring Social Media

“Cubans are unable to bring awareness to the situation online due to the government blocking their access and preventing any information from inside the country to be spread,” shared Cuban Twitter user @pangolins, echoing the criticism for the government’s censoring of social media coverage of the demonstrations. The hashtag #SOSCuba has dominated social media channels with U.S. based Cubans trying to raise awareness of what’s happening on the island.

Cuban politicians and the official press, the only one allowed by law in Cuba, commonly discredit oppositionists alleging they support U.S. interests and that they receive funding for opposing, NBC reported. Media censorship has been common on island since Fidel Castro’s reign with many fellow Cubans having no knowledge of the largest protest Cuba had seen since Castro’s revolution which took place in August 1994 on Havana’s Malecón seawall. The Cuban government says social media platforms are used by “enemies of the revolution” to create “destabilisation strategies” that follow CIA manuals.

With the advent of social media now, the protests have only grown as Cubans learning about what’s going are coming out to show their support and many in the U.S. are supporting the cause as well by amplifying the cause on social. Journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa wrote in an op ed that from now on Cuba will never be the same saying this uprising has cracked open the “heart of the regime.”

Police are allegedly using violence against the demonstrators.

Special forces jeeps with machine guns mounted on the back were seen throughout the capital and the police presence is strong even after the 9 p.m. curfew that’s still in place due to the pandemic, Reuters reported. The publication reported that witnesses in Havana saw security forces, aided by alleged plain clothes officers, arrest about two dozen protesters. They’ve also used pepper spray and hit some protestors and AP photographer Ramon Espinosa was bloodied after an altercation with police while covering the demonstrations. There have been reports of demonstrators throwing rocks at empty police cars and calling them “repressors.”

In order to support the movement you can amplify their concerns through the hashtag #soscuba on social media and sharing content from the island. Follow journalists covering the demonstrations including Elaine Díaz @elainediaz2003, Lorena Cantó @lorenacantoEFE, and Abraham Jiménez Enoa @JimenezEnoa on Twitter.