Protests in Cuba: Narratives, Technology and short-term change

Main take-aways

The protests in Cuba are surfacing the inaccurate narratives which surround the domestic and international status of the island. There are binary conclusions that identify one single responsible figure behind the humanitarian and security crisis. The main certainty in Cuba is that ordinary citizens will almost certainly continue to become victims, despite the governing body.

  • Political and governmental reforms are likely to have little impact on the civilian population in the long term. The narratives surrounding Cuba from both sides create a greater probability of political polarisation than cooperation.
  • Both U.S. sanctions and the Cuban government are responsible for short and long-term humanitarian and security crisis in Cuba. The protests in Cuba are a visible symptom of the alienation of the population from both parties.
  • It is unlikely that the situation will change in Cuba in the following 6 months. The geopolitical polarisation favours drawing a fixated ‘red-line’, making certain policies highly unlikely to be revoked.

Protests in Cuba: Context


On the 11th of July, protests emerged in San Antonio de Los Baños due to governmental abandonment. The Cuban economy shrank 11% in 2020, with Cuba importing 50% of food and basic goods, food scarcity was likely to arrive. The president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz Canel, immediately identified the protesters as ideologically opposite to revolutionary values. The president simultaneously identified small legitimate concerns amongst some of the protests. This likely signals a superficial concern of humanitarian causes to legitimise other authoritarian behaviour. The opposition to the government is, in its majority, almost certainly identified as societal outcasts by the government. The NGO Cubalex pointed that, as of the 9th of August, 800 people disappeared or became arrested without due legal process.

Covid, Sanctions and Narratives

Protests in Cuba are triggered by the pandemic, although limited living conditions likely caused momentum to build up. The Cuban government continues to limit civil liberties, movement and speech, only opening to 100% foreign investment in December 2020. The US government maintains sanctions excluding food and medicine, preventing Cuban expansion of influence and capabilities. The UN’s condemn of the sanctions for the 29th consecutive year is likely to not deter US competition with Cuba. It is almost impossible to identify a current single responsible figure for the events in Cuba. The geopolitical significance of the island maintains a narrative that is likely to continue growing in the short term.

Protests in Cuba: Trump and Sanctions

The longstanding US sanctions against Cuba became harsher with the arrival of Trump. It is forbidden to send remittances to Cuba, despite being an exiled or expatriate citizen. President Trump designated the country a sponsor of terrorism during the end of his mandate. The house of representatives put pressure on Biden to reduce the latest sanctions. Nevertheless, Biden avoided the debate over Trump’s early 2021 sanctions. The protests in Cuba and reaction of the government in July 2021 triggered further sanctions imposed by Biden’s administration. The sanctions will likely continue to antagonise any foreign intervention in Cuba unless supportive of the Castro regime.

Use of Technology

Protests in Cuba: Organisation

The arrival of technology and the internet is a likely opportunity for demonstrations in Cuba to continue to grow. The protest organised from the 11th of July emerged from a Facebook group in San Antonio de Los Baños. Similarly, Cubalex is co-running a Facebook page pushing citizens to list disappeared individuals in the protests. Internet and technology are used to coordinate the protests in Cuba. Despite successes, this methodology is almost certainly vulnerable to the willingness of the Cuban government to prohibit connection.

Connection black-out

Similar to other conflicts during 2020 like in Ethiopia, the connection was shut down to deter the organisation of demonstrations. Netblock identified a partial connection shut-down on the 12th of July. On the 1st of August, a partial shut-down was registered again. Preventing real-time demonstrations is only part of the motivation. Canel reduces the capacity of individuals to report on repression in the protests in Cuba. As a consequence, there is a significant reduction in potential accountability.

Inefficient foreign support

Marco Rubio also targets the protests in Cuba by adopting the Rubio-Scott Amendment. The attempt provides unfiltered internet access to Cuban citizens. Despite the attempt, the amendment is unlikely to be actionable in the following 6 months due to technology and implementation. More importantly, the US reduces by itself the effectiveness of the policy. Maintaining sanctions while providing other resources generates a dissonance that is likely to generate a degree of rejection.  

Protests in Cuba: Repression and lack of action

Similar to Colectivos, Canel used paramilitaries to diminish the size of protests. ‘The order of battle has been given’ was claimed by Canel in a speech regarding the protests in Cuba. In other words, directly target those who express concerns over the government’s poor performance. Although not directly related, the repressive behaviour combined with US sanctions draws a red line which states refuse to sacrifice. The US is unlikely to remove sanctions to Cuba as long as Cuba continues to oppress the opposition. Similarly, Cuba is unlikely to reduce the repression of the opposition while sanctions remain active. Meanwhile, the protests in Cuba almost certainly suffer the consequences of a stalemate by both nations.

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