Cuba: fight the lies, end the blockade

Despite their own hardships, Cubans have marched in solidarity with Palestine, demanding an end to Israeli genocide and imperialist complicity

On 29 February, for the first time Cuba requested emergency assistance from the UN World Food Programme, to provide state-guaranteed powdered milk for all children under seven. Food and energy shortages, a consequence of the US’s 63-year illegal blockade of Cuba, have unsurprisingly led to some Cubans expressing their frustration through public protests.

On 17 March, a few hundred protesters gathered in various locations in the eastern part of Cuba, including the country’s second-largest city Santiago, fed up with lengthy electricity blackouts and issues with food availability. US-backed social media platforms attempted to stoke unrest by promoting false narratives regarding the extent and nature of the protests, hoping for a repeat of violent demonstrations that took place on 11 July 2021. These attempts failed, due to a swift response by both the Cuban state and the Communist Party, ensuring that the gatherings remained nonviolent and constructive in nature.

Counterrevolutionary social media provocateurs shared videos from 27 January of the annual ‘March of the Torches’, which celebrates independence hero José Marti, claiming that these were videos of anti-government protests. The US embassy in Cuba worked in tandem, quoting a spokesperson for the US State Department on its Facebook page:

‘We urge the Cuban government to refrain from violence and unjust detentions’. Bourgeois media outlets uncritically parroted this line fed to them by US imperialism. But the root cause of the extreme hardship which was the focus of the protesters’ complaints is the devastating impact of the US blockade against Cuba. Damages inflicted upon the island nation’s energy sector alone have surpassed $3.7bn since the implementation of the blockade, severely hampering Cuba’s ability to generate power and distribute fuel and electricity. Moreover, the US’s punitive measures are extraterritorial, imposing steep fines on oil tankers delivering supplies to Cuba, and placing the country on the ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list, damaging its financial relationships with third parties.

The US chargé d’affaires in Havana, Benjamin Ziff, was formally summoned before Cuban officials to answer for his embassy’s interference in Cuban affairs by amplifying baseless claims about the scale and scope of the protests, and for posts on X/Twitter calling on the Cuban government to ‘respect the human rights of the protesters and address the legitimate needs of the Cuban people’. This is pure hypocrisy, as the US continues to wage economic war on Cuba, calculated to ‘[deny] money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government’, according to an infamous memorandum penned by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Lestor Mallory, 64 years ago on 6 April 1960. A few days after the protests Donald Trump, who during his last term as US President initiated 243 punishing new unilateral measures against Cuba, weighed in at an election campaign rally in Florida which is a stronghold of right-wing Cuban exiles: ‘I want the people of Cuba to know that we are watching what is happening in Santiago very closely… Under my administration, we will return to being very strong on the oppressors.’

US subversion fails

Despite US imperialist efforts, the 17 March protests were not a repetition of the events that transpired on 11 July 2021 when violent protests occurred in several cities across Cuba, stoked by US-sponsored disinformation. Within hours of the initial gathering this March, the local Provincial Committee of the Communist Party Secretary, Beatriz Johnson Urrutia, attended the scene to engage in dialogue and discuss potential solutions to alleviate the hardships they were facing. Urrutia explained on X/Twitter: ‘we are part of the people, integrated and facing the genocidal blockade’. During his visit to Santiago on 21 March, President Miguel Díaz-Canel was greeted by rallies of Cubans demonstrating unity in the face of external aggression.

President Díaz-Canel also addressed the situation via television broadcasts, acknowledging protesters’ legitimate concerns that there may be ‘poorly made administrative decisions and elements of bureaucracy’ in food distribution, while emphasising the importance of distinguishing fact from fiction. As the president pointed out, fuel supplies to Cuba have been strategically targeted by a US policy of ‘energy chasing’: ship owners are threatened with sanctions if their fuel tankers dock at Cuban ports; and US pressure is brought to bear on the insurers of tankers. Food supplies are also targeted, prompting critical comments on 21 March from the US’s own Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who bemoaned US sanctions which require Cuba to pay for US agricultural products in US dollars, cash in advance. Due to persistent supply chain interruptions and raw material scarcity – particularly when it comes to wheat flour – the Ministry of the Food Industry announced that it would be unable to sustain the production of bread required for monthly rations beyond March.

Cuba fights back

In the midst of this extreme hardship, Cuba has made ambitious plans to diversify its energy sources and reduce dependence on traditional fossil fuels. It aims to purchase up to 2,000 megawatts of installed photovoltaic capacity from two Chinese suppliers in 2024-25, enabling the construction of 92 solar parks capable of meeting nearly one-fifth of the country’s current electrical demand. This transition towards renewable energy represents not only an environmentally conscious decision but also a strategic move aimed at bolstering Cuba’s resilience against future external shocks similar to those posed by the US blockade. However, Cuba continues to be reliant on oil imports from US rivals: on 9 March the Russian-owned ship NS Concord departed Ust-Luga Anchorage, carrying 697,000 barrels of crude oil bound for Matanzas, Cuba.

International solidarity remains vital in defending the achievements of the Cuban Revolution and combating toxic disinformation and counterrevolutionary propaganda. We all have a role to play in this.

Will Jones

FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 299 April/May 2024