The protests erupted Sunday in San Antonio de los Baños, a town outside Cuba’s capital city, Havana. They spread from there, with demonstrations bursting out across the country, from the streets of Havana to the countryside. They became the largest anti-government protests to happen in the country in decades — a remarkable show of resistance against Cuba’s communist regime.
Outrage and desperation over Cuba’s deepening economic crisis and a resurgent pandemic fueled the demonstrations. Food and medicine shortages are widespread. Prices for food and utilities are rising, making it harder for Cubans to afford the essentials. Frequent blackouts are intensifying the public’s frustration. Cubans are waiting in long lines for food they can barely afford and may not have a fridge to store in, or even a fan to get them through the island’s July heat.
Cuba’s economic problems largely predate the pandemic, but the coronavirus sharpened them. It decimated Cuba’s tourism industry, a huge slice of the island’s economy. Trump-era sanctions — which the Biden administration has not rolled back — have added to the pressure. And the pandemic itself is taking a toll: Cuba is currently experiencing a record surge in cases and deaths.
“It’s been a perfect storm,” said Lisandro Pérez, a professor and chair of the department of Latin American and Latinx studies at John Jay College. “All of these factors that have long been there — with the addition of the pandemic.”