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After the constant disagreements and cold war between the two countries, in 2014, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Caul Castro agreed to resume diplomatic relations between the countries. This occasion was dense with history.
President Obama mentioned that there is a complicated history between the US and Cuba, which cannot be erased easily. But, he also affirmed that leaving the legacy of communism and colonization would improve the countries.
Simultaneously, in Cuba, President Castro also spoke about the history between the nations and admitted to cutting loose the burden of the past. He also summoned the record, not as a rationale for the change but will be the reason for continuity.
The expectations of many Cuban Americans stem from the 1959 revolution. As a result, the recent Cubans have different opinions about their home nation and relationship with the United States.
Relationship between the US and Cuba
The Cuban National Assembly was addressed by Castro when he mentioned that no one should compromise the ideas of the island country, for which they have struggled for over a century. The Cubans have shed blood and tears also to improve their relationship with the United States, which was ultimately necessary to understand that Cuba is a sovereign State.
Although both nations talk about the history between the two, they see it from different perspectives. As evidenced in the 1959 Cuban revolution and the 1898 Spanish-American war, the American leaders have found it extremely difficult to reconcile with the independent and sovereign Cuba for 200 years now.
A different destiny for Cuba
In the 19th century, the Cubans developed a vision of destiny to get freedom and attain national sovereignty and self-determination from Spanish rule.
The cultivation of sugar and tobacco helped the island to an extent, aiding them in agro-industrial production. Due to this, they developed new technologies and distribution networks which later became integrated into the world. This was when the fateful relationship between the countries surfaced – America’s resolve to possess Cuba and the determination of Cubans to resist this possession.
Free Cuba, led by the war of 1898
In 1898, the history of both America and Cuba was wrapped around each other, posing a succession of US sovereignty over Cuba. When the Americas entered the war against Spain, their interests finally aligned with the providential design. At the war’s end, America expressed its interest in freeing the island of Spanish rule and assuming the position of the protector of Cuban interests. Hence, the sovereignty of Cuba was transferred from Spain to the United States, which was responsible for the overall welfare of the people.
However, over the years, America withdrew from assuming the position of the protector, and Cuba became independent. Under Biden’s administration, the rules between America and Cuba have tightened, controlling trade, exports and imports.
Despite being a great island to live in, Cuba still faces a tremendous amount of issues, especially with the Cuban government, which continues to repress all forms of dissent and public criticism. At the same time, Cubans are also dealing with a dire economic crisis that has impacted the economic and social rights of the people.
IN July 2022, thousands of Cubans came to the streets to protest the long-standing restrictions on many rights, the security of necessities like food and medicines, and their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, despite severe protests and cries for help, the government responded with silence and repression.
Detention and short-term imprisonment
In response to such long, ongoing protests in the island country, the Cuban government employs arbitrary detention to intimidate and harass all the critics, political opponents, independent activities, and others. However, many residents also complain that security officers seldom produce arrest warrants to justify their actions.
Many families have complained that over 1000 people, primarily bystanders and peaceful demonstrators, were arrested or detained during the July protests. Many were also subjected to ill-treatment or violently beaten during detention. During detention, two female officers also made a 17-year-old girl strip and squat naked five times.
Many offices have also used the excuse of COVID spread to detain people in their homes for weeks and miss –treat them during their detention.
Freedom of expression
The Cuban government virtually controls all media activities and restricts people to outside information. In 2021, although the Cuban government expanded the permit of private economic activities, they still banned independent journalism.
Many bloggers, journalists, media influences, academics, and others who post sensitive information critical to the government are often subjected to harassment, travel restrictions, online harassment, raids on rescue, and confiscating gadgets. They are also denied the freedom of expression and are regularly held incommunicado.
However, due to the new regulations imposed in 2019, the Cuban government has also increased access to the internet and communication. They have also allowed bloggers and journalists to report on issues regarding protests, abuse, and other sensitive topics, which was deemed impossible years ago,
Over the years, the travel restrictions for Cuban citizens have been eased. People who were denied travel until 2013, like bloggers and human rights defenders, have gained permission to do so recently. However, authorities continue to restrict access to other places selectively.
Due to the strict policies put forth by the Cuban government, the prison often remains overcrowded. As a result, the detainees generally lack an effective complaint for abuses and other crimes of the accused. People who are on hunger strikes or go against the government face beatings, restrictions to family visits, denial of medical care, solitary confinement, and many other punishments.
The one-party communism in the state outlaws all political pluralism, including the ban of independent media, restriction on civil liberties, and suppression of dissent. Despite all the recent forms that promote private-sector activity, the government still manages to dominate the island country. The citizens of the country state that the undemocratic character of the country has not changed, despite the reforms in political leadership that took place between 2018 and 2020.
Between these years, a new constitution was also introduced in the country, which did not drastically cause any impact on its officials.
Key Developments after 2020
Cuba performed key reforms after 2020, which has brought the country closer to democracy. Here are some of them:
- The COVID-19 pandemic was efficiently controlled by the government, leading to 145 deaths by year-end, as reported by WHO. However, its effect on other parts of the world severely affected the Cuban economy. In July, the government responded by liberalizing trade rules and regulating the small private organizations to trade freely. They also expanded experiments with all the non-agricultural sectors.
- The government sometimes took advantage of COVID to crack down on the incident gatherings. When members of the MSI gathered to protest against the arrest of rapper Denis Solis, the police and the government involved themselves. They detained them to prevent the spread of the pandemic and filed cases of harassment—violation of health restrictions, and intimidation.
The electoral process
According to the 2019 reforms in the constitution, the elected President and the vice president serve a term of five years as stated by the National Assembly. After that, the Prime Minister, followed by the Council of Ministers, is elected on the proposal of the President.
The National Assembly is directly elected to serve a term of 5 years. However, they are designed by PPC-controlled commissions, which present single candidates for every seat. They are selected if they receive more than 50% of the votes.
Only the municipal assemblies allow more than one candidate for the seat, without campaigning. This rule did not change in the reformed electoral law, which was altered unanimously in 2019.
Political participation and pluralism
According to the constitution, PPC is the driving force of the state and society, where other political parties are deemed illegal. However, many detentions take place without legal oversight, with confiscating belongings, followed by threats and beatings. Such politically motivated detentions were part of vital repressive tactics under Raul Castro’s government and are still being continued under Dia Canel.
Since the 1960s, the PPCC has monopolized the government and its politics in Cuba, which allows no electoral competition from succeeding through a democratic power transfer. Although independent candidates were introduced in 2017, the authorities successfully blocked their candidatures, ensuring they did not appear on the ballot.
About a year ago, Cuba saw one of the largest protests against its communist government. On 11 July 2021, protests against the communist party and the Cuban government erupted in the country due to the shortage of food and medicine and the government’s response to the COVID pandemic. The demonstration was the largest demonstration after the anti-government protests of 1994.
Thousands of people were seen in the streets of many cities shouting ‘freedom’ and slogans against the dictatorship. The protester also took this opportunity to voice their resentment against the country’s authoritarian rules and harsh laws that curb civil liberties. Various reasons, like the government’s pandemic lockdown rules and failure to follow various rules that led to the country’s poor economy, attributed to this unrest that shook the government to the core.
The citizens of Cuba wanted changes and were done with the dictatorships. Let us delve deeper to understand the main reasons for their protests.
The COVID pandemic
One of the main reasons for the outbreak is the inefficiency of the government in handling the country during the pandemic. The harsh economic measures taken by the country and the health crisis made life in Cuba unbearable. The country with Covide-19 under control in 2020 became flooded with numerous cases by 2021. It is said that the number of casualties and death that were reported was far less than the original figures. However, within a few months, the country had a breaking number of daily corona cases and numerous deaths, pushing the country’s healthcare system to collapse.
The BBC reported that many of the civilians died without getting adequate medical support. In addition, there was no room or enough doctors to check the patients in the hospitals. Thus, the medical negligence and inadequacy of the health centers fueled the rebellion.
The social media posts with #SOS Cuba were calling for humanitarian intervention to help the critical situation in this island country.
The Economic Crisis
One of the major drivers of the Cuban economy was tourism which practically got paralyzed by the pandemic. So, naturally, this has a profound effect on the country’s economic and social life.
Adding to these issues, the growing inflation, blackouts, and shortage of food and medicine aggravated the situation. Moreover, at the beginning of the year, the government introduced a new economic reform that guaranteed an increase in wages, which boosted prices for basic products.
Along with these issues, the medical centers didn’t have any aspirin when the island faced scabies and other infectious diseases. Moreover, the government stopped temporarily accepting cash deposits in dollars, which were the main currency Cuban citizens got in remittances from abroad.
We cannot say that the Cuban protest was a huge success. But it was successful enough to draw international attention to the Cuban plight and brought to attention the long-standing issues that need to be addressed immediately.
According to the recent developments, the United States and Cuba restored their diplomatic relations in 2015, which were served during the Cold War of 1961. However, the US government still wishes to remain anonymous with Cuba, making it illegal for them to do business with Cuba.
The early relations with Cuba and the US were mainly focused on trade, and in the 19th century, manifest destiny led America to buy, take control and conquer some of Cuba. This led to a secret attempt to buy essentials of Cuba from Spain in 1848 called Ostend Manifesto, which backfired and weakened Pierce’s presidency in the country.
From 1898 to 1902, Cuba became a US protectorate and gained political and economic dominance over the island, which persisted even after Cuba became independent in 1902.
After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, nearly $1.7 billion of US oil assets were seized in Cuba, which led the US to tighten its restrictions and bans against the Cuban government.
US-Cuba relations post the Cuban Revolution.
While the disputes with Cuba continued, the US government served diplomatic ties with the island country and also attempted to use exiles to invade the country in 1961. The US also engaged in a terrorist campaign to bring down the Cuban government in the same year.
However, after 2014, during the presidentship of Barak Obama and Rul Castro, they began normalizing their relations, which was popularly called ‘The Cuban Thaw.’
However, during the Trump administration, the rules became stringent when Trump announced new travel and other restrictions, worsening US-Cuba relationships. Since 2021, the Biden administration has been labeled tougher than Trump with the Cuban island.
The Trade Sanctions Reform and Enhancement Act of 2000 allows exports from the US to Cuba in several medical and food industries, with proper licensing and permissions from the dedicated departments and councils. Since the Obama administration eased specific travel restrictions from the US to Cuba, it led to discuss bilateral relations. As part of the Cuban Thaw, the country further loosened the travel and other import restrictions after 2015.
Although academic relations have fluctuated between the two countries, like other relations, they have been limited since 1959. In 1961, the normal flow of intellectual exchanges was stopped, and then it was only after the 1970s that the government thought of increasing the relations with respect to academic ties.
Instead, the emphasis was drawn to cultural and literary history by opening Cuban universities in America and vice versa. The Torricelli Law, set up in 1992, also facilitated the relaxation of intellectual cooperation between the two counties. However, as the presidents of the United States kept changing, the laws were relaxed and imposed based on the person in power.
The elections process decides the government body which rules the island for a brief time.
Elections in Cuba are held at the provincial, municipal and national levels. Cuba has only one state in the party. The Communist Party of Cuba is called the superior driving force of society and the state. This has also been mentioned in the Cuban constitution, and any party other than this is considered illegal. Since the government does not promote free and fair voting, the elections in Cuba are not regarded as democratic.
Procedure of elections
As stated in the constitution, Cuba is a socialist republic, which means all the members of the bodies are elected and are subjected to recall the masses of the state agencies. Elections in Cuba are held in two phases:
- Elections of the delegates from the Municipal Assemble
- Election of the deputies in the National Assembly
The local population nominates the candidate SFP and the municipal assemblies at the local levels. And for the national assembly, the candidates are nominated by the members of the municipal assemblies by referring to a list compiled by the municipal and federal candidacy commissions.
Although the provincial assemblies were abolished in 2019, the provincial governors still hold their office, which is decided by the president of Cuba, with no provincial election.
The voters nominate elections of the municipal assembly delegates in the nomination assemblies by posting their candidate biographies. Then, a process called the secret ballot is followed for voting. Finally, these deputies are elected for a term of 5 years.
Before the voting, nomination assemblies are held a month before the elections within the electoral district.
Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Party has 605 members who serve a term of 5 years. As mentioned above, the candidates of this assembly are chosen by the candidacy commissions, which are composed of mass organizations representing youth, farmers, women, students, and others. Although only one candidature per seat is permitted, 50% of the votes ought to be elected. If a candidate fails to achieve at least 50% votes, a new candidate is selected for the position, and the procedure is repeated.
Rights of the legislative proposals
The Cuban constitution, adopted in 1976, provides rights for the citizens to propose laws, but the prerequisite is that the proposal should be backed by 10,000 citizens who are eligible to vote. For instance, in 2002, a movement was formed known as the Varela Project, which submitted nearly 11,000 signatures for national reform on the economic and political reforms of the island.
The government considered the petition and proposed a counter initiative which was later backed by 8.1 million signatures. Millions of Cubans also took to the street in support of the decision.
The economic structure of Cuba follows a mixed pattern, most of which is funded and dominated by state-up enterprises. On the other hand, the state government employs almost all the labor forces necessary to raise the country’s economic state and get over its financial crisis.
Different sectors owing to economic development
The economy of Cuba is funded and governed by different sectors of the government and private corporations. Some of them are mentioned below:
As of 2011, nearly 96% of the entire island’s electricity was produced from fossil fuels. The modernized method of energy production with solar panels was introduced only in some rural areas and for emergencies like blackouts, burn-outs, etc. Most of the citizens were also encouraged to switch from inefficient lamps to modern models, reducing electricity consumption.
According to 2007 reports, Cuba produced 16.89 billion kWh of electricity, of which only 13.93 billion kWh was consumed, without imports and exports. Since they do not depend on revenue from imports and exports, the profit from energy production is minimal in Cuba.
The Energy Revolution program of Cuba was started and executed in 2006, which focused on developing a socioeconomic status using diverse energy resources. However, since Cuba lacks the efficient resources to generate Cuba’s power production, they plan on taking help from the United States. Furthermore, the outdated energy grid, which is often affected and damaged by hurricanes, often causes an energy crisis on the island.
Most of the import and export of goods in Cuba happens through agriculture. It is one of the largest producers of Sugar and tobacco. In addition, it also produces citrus, potatoes, livestock, beans, and coffee. According to reports from 2015, nearly 80% of the food and other food products were exported to different countries, which remain one of the leading sources of their revenue.
Nearly 37% of the Cuban GDP is through industrial production. A rally in 2009, based on the sugar production and processing industry, stimulated its investment and produced a larger market for sugar cultivation and processing. Since 2003, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries have also started gaining immense importance. Over the years, they have also sold vaccines against bacterial and viral pathogens and exported them to different regions of the world. Along with developing drugs in cancer treatment, Cuba has created a drug called Herberprot-P, which is famous as a cure for diabetic foot ulcers in many developing counties.
In the mid-1990s, the tourism industry surpassed the revenues generated by the sugar industry and became a mainstream development of the Cuban economy. It was also considered the primary source of foreign exchange. Over the years, the tourism industry has only grown, and today, it is also one of the primary industries for generating the economy on the island.
The powerful Hurricane Ian hit Cuba with a wind speed of over 200 kmph and caused extensive damage in the region. When the electrical installation got destroyed, the authorities turned off the power to avoid any electrocution and massive damage to any properties. The country saved about 3,800 people in the western region because of the timely evacuation. Still, Hurricane Ian has left numerous dead, destroyed homes, and resulted in severe flooding.
Even before the hurricane hit the country, it was predicted that even if you were not located or came in the path of the eye of the storm, it would damage properties and lives in other regions as well.
The governor asked the citizens to stock adequate food, medicine, and fuel and also took the help of about 7,000 national guards.
Most affected regions
The category four powerful hurricane mainly hit Pinar del Rio and the region of Artemisa. About 11 municipalities of the area were severely affected by the storm in Pinar del Rio region, while three were involved in the Artemisa region. In the 14 municipalities that were worst affected by the hurricane, there were about 713,732 people. Of these people, 352,542 were women, about 144,444 were children and adolescents, and about 155000 were people over 60. In addition, in these municipalities, there were about 3 400 pregnant women, about 800 HIV patients, and 30,500 people with disabilities.
Since these areas were the worst hit by the hurricane, the plan of action was mainly focused on these regions.
The entire Island has to face a power blackout.
The Island of Cuba was constantly threatened with frequent blackouts that frustrated the civilians. But Hurricane Ian was the last straw of Cuba’s outdated and ailing electricity grid system. Even though power blackouts were widespread in the island country, the storm resulted in the power system’s collapse and put more than 11 million people in the country in darkness.
What were the major damages?
The powerful storm caused massive damage. Along with creating enormous havoc in the country’s urban spaces, they also destroyed the livelihood of many people in the rural municipalities.
Based on primary assessment, it is found that the damages include:
- Housing damages.
- Destruction of health and educational infrastructure.
- Difficulty in accessing clean drinking water and electricity.
Additionally, enormous damage has been reported to the food storage and production facilities. Thousands of hectares of crops, livestock production, fishing, and agriculture which were the primary source of the livelihood of people in the affected municipalities, were destroyed by the killer storm.
What made the situation worse was that Hurricane Ian hit Cuba when the country was going through a major economic crisis caused by COVID-19.
National and local authorities are trying their best to handle the situation. But, due to the large scale of the disaster and the severe damages caused by the hurricane, the country will require support from other sources.
In the wake of the protest in July 2021, the Cuban government arrested thousands of protesters. From this protest, more than 700 protesters were imprisoned till the end of the year. The authorities curbed their freedom of expression and began to monitor human rights activists, artists, and journalists. Many of these people were put under house arrest and subjected to detention and ill-treatment. Along with this, the authoritarian Cuban government disrupted the internet. The island country’s economic condition worsened, and US authorities again failed to lift the restriction and ban on various economic and commercial activities.
Repressing the dissent
If you are wondering how Cuban authorities respond to dissent and disagreement, you should look at the peaceful protest that happened on July 11, 2021. Many people took to the streets of many towns and cities due to the Cuban authorities’ failure to address the economy’s weak state, the shortage of medicine, food, and other necessities, and the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The protesters also voiced their concerns over controlling the rights of freedom of expression and assembly. However, the largest demonstration that Cuba saw was the people’s cry to end the government’s authoritarian rule.
In response to this protest, the authority of Cuba imprisoned thousands of protesters. The authorities also took harsh steps against activists and journalists. They were either put under house arrest or forced into arbitrary detention. What is worse is that all these happen by disrupting the internet. In addition, most of the protesters arrested were charged with criminal charges to silence the rebellion.
After the protests, the arrested people were put under house arrest delaying their trial. The Cuban authorities also subjected these people to physical surveillance by appointing security to inform them about their houses permanently. They were also threatened with arrest if they left the place, thus forcing them into arbitrary detention. The relatives of people who were detained were also subjected to many violations.
This mass detention resulted in the reporting of ill-treatment, including crimes against women. Many authorities misbehaved and harassed women. Moreover, they denied the allegation of human right violation.
The authorities subjected absolute control over the media and allowed to broadcast only selected footage. Moreover, during the protest, people in power disrupted the internet and blocked apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.
Economic and cultural rights
The economic condition of Cuba has continued to deteriorate over the years. With a significant shortage of food, medicine, and other necessities, the situation of this Island nation is devastating that even the Inter-American Commission on Human rights expressed their concerns, especially on the situation of Cuba after the COVID pandemic. Moreover, throughout the years, there have been many electricity outages.
During various times of the year, hospitals were also reported to be overwhelmed with patients.
But the unfortunate situation is that the authorities blame the economic embargo for the shortage of food and other necessities.
Cuba has experienced many setbacks in the last few years, mainly due to the devastating earthquake in 2020, along with the rampant spread of the COVID-19 virus. The country is still trying to get back on its feet again, with many people finding it difficult to meet their basic needs. In this article, we will explore the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cuba.
When COVID-19 started spreading in Cuba, restrictions were quickly placed. The schools were closed, and classes were held online. However, many students in Cuba come from low-income families, and they don’t have easy access to the Internet.
It also suffered from a shortage of beds. However, what sets Cuba apart from the other nations in the world is that it has an incredibly high ratio of doctors to the population. The doctors displayed great tenacity and strength in tracking and attempting to isolate the virus.
They also conducted detailed medical research and developed vaccines like Abdala and Soberena-2. Unfortunately, the Cuban infrastructure was not on their side and is still in need of great attention.
Hurricanes Exacerbated the Crisis
The fight in Cuba was not just against COVID-19 but also the rise in poverty. People were suffering in many ways, and there was a lack of impetus to follow the pandemic rules. More than the COVID-19 crisis itself, many Cubans feared hurricanes.
The Cuban region is well known for experiencing many hurricanes. It has always left them with a devastating aftermath, where people no longer had homes and had to find shelters to feel safe and warm. Although Cubans are generally resilient and have a history of facing hurricanes with great courage, it became twice as challenging this time.
Cuba is known for its strong commitment to meeting the goals of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. However, the problem is that it relies heavily on food imports to provide for poor children in schools.
Cuban Foreign Minister Speaks at UN General Assembly
Recently, the Cuban Foreign Minister spoke at the UN General Assembly and went into the current issues that the world is collectively facing. He expressed the sentiment that the COVID-19 pandemic merely revealed the nature of the unjust order currently prevailing among the nations and criticized the overemphasis laid on military expenditure.
He also expressed distaste for Cuba’s false image of having sponsored terrorism. On the contrary, he asserted that Cuba had been a victim of terrorism. He pointed out Cuba’s commitment and strength in fighting the COVID-19 virus and how Cuba provided medical brigades to many countries around the world, despite its own troubles.
Tourism Industry is Showing Hope
Fortunately, the situation is looking much better now. Cuba has always received tourists from different parts of the world for its exotic culture, culture, and music. The tourist industry is thriving again, with the Cuban Government allowing only vaccinated tourists to enter the island. Kids are also going back to school. Hence, there is a promising movement toward normalcy.