For weeks, the streets of Havana have returned to their usual everyday life. Flags, drums and banners that rioters pulled out of cellars two months ago have been replaced by the deafening traffic of old cars driving around the Caribbean city. In the Plaza de la Revolución, no trace remains of the thousands of people who demonstrated against the regime in July. The harsh repression of the DI – the notorious political police – has brought full control of the situation back into the hands of the government led by Miguel Díaz-Canel. The same totalitarian control that has never given up on the island since 1959, when Fidel Castro and ‘El Che’ Guevara overthrew the Batista dictatorship.
“The Castroites have never really risked losing control. It is a totalitarian regime that has dominated every aspect of Cuban life for over sixty years. The party and the armed forces maintain an absolute grip on the island ”explains Loris Zanatta. However, the professor of Latin American History at the University of Bologna, a columnist for Limes and Il Foglio, explains to HuffPost that the July protests were the most important ever seen in the entire history of the regime. “The government has understood this and has lifted some restrictions on food imports from abroad. But there is no turning point: it is the usual policy of the stick and the carrot ”. The government’s harsh reaction was not long in coming. Hundreds of dissidents flock to prisons and control over the media is even more invasive: “A brand new propaganda ministry has been born. One of the latest ideas of a regime that tries to make a living as best it can with the resources it has left over ”.
Before the protests, Cuba’s economy was in full recession. The double-digit collapse of GDP (-11%) and the blocking of tourism due to the pandemic have done nothing but worsen a social situation that was already disastrous before Covid. With the spread of the pandemic, Cubans could no longer cope with the permanent shortage of food and medicine this summer. “In a surreal silence – recalls Zanatta – trucks loaded with corpses caused by Covid paraded through the streets of Havana, because there were not even the coffins to bury them”. And Soberana, the vaccine one hundred percent made in Cuba? “The serum is yet another farce of the regime’s propaganda. Here is just one fact: Uruguay, a small republic in South America, even without producing its own, is among the countries with the highest vaccine rates and is already starting with the third dose. Cuba, on the other hand, is seventieth in the world rankings for administration ”. The difference between the two nations? “Montevideo is a democratic society, open to the world and to international trade. Havana is a totalitarian regime, unable to relate to the West ”.
Then there is international aid from friendly countries. “Realities made worse than Cuba”. Maduro’s Argentina and Venezuela, which for twenty years has been sending thousands of barrels of oil to Cuba every year. “The big news of recent years is the growing economic weight of remittances from the Cuban diaspora abroad”. A nation that has 11 million inhabitants at home and 3 million emigrants around the world, especially in the United States. It is they who, in the absence of tourism, support the Cuban economy: “Cuba has become an unproductive island. The remittances that arrive allow many Cubans to get by. By creating, among other things, huge pockets of inequality with respect to fellow citizens who have no relatives abroad ”.
Thankfully, they have one of the most advanced health systems in the world on the island. “It is true. Some hospitals are on the cutting edge. But only for those who pay well, and in US dollars of course ”. In fact, since the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the lack of subsidies from Moscow, Castro had made Cuba one of the most sought-after destinations for ‘luxury’ health tourism. “The problem is that if the average Cuban goes to the hospital, he has to bring cutlery and sheets from home. The hygienic conditions are very bad. Ambulances are missing. Skip the light regularly ”. Two parallel systems.
Behind the protests in July there would be Washington’s long hand according to the Cuban government. “I doubt it. Also because if the regime falls, the Cubans would flock to the shores of Florida. No convenience for the United States. It would be one more problem for the Biden administration ”. What, then, can become the cause of a new spark in Cuba? “I see no dangers for the regime in the short term,” says Zanatta. “The only thing that could happen, to unleash a terminal crisis of the regime, is the addition of many events: the hunger of the housewives who take hours to get food every day; the tiredness of those who go to the black market to get the necessities because with the ration card they do not make it to the end of the month; part of the population exasperated by continuous blackouts; artists dissatisfied because they do not let them express; emigrants and their families who get angry because part of the remittances are pocketed by the authorities. In short, widespread discontent could wear down the regime from within ”.