‘Libertad!’: Protests demanding freedom erupt in Cuba

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Protests have erupted in Cuba as residents are demanding “Libertad,” which translates to “liberty” in English.

Economic conditions have worsened over the past decade, as the island nation’s communist policies, paired with a US embargo, have caused Cuba’s currency to devalue and its industries to suffer. Cubans began demonstrations in capital city Havana and other places around the country. Demonstrators are seen in several online videos demanding libertad while waving American flags.

Why they are protesting

Protests in Cuba are rare. The Communist Party of Cuba, the island’s ruling political party since 1959, wrote in its own Constitution that it is the leading role in Cuban society, and “the people” have ownership over the nation’s industries. Voters favored an amended constitution in 2019, which relinquished some of the party’s control. The amended constitution recognizes private property and due process, and puts the country on a mixed economy. It’s a far cry from libertad, but it was a step away from the direction of full tyrannical control.

Despite these changes, Cubans are demanding libertad from their government. They were chanting phrases such as “We are not afraid!” and were shouting several individualistic words, including “enough” and “freedom.” The protests turned violent when some demonstrators clashed with police. Dozens of protesters were arrested once demonstrations turned violent, according to news reports. The protests are considered a boiling point in Cuba’s economic crisis.

What caused Cuba’s economic crisis?

This most recent cry for libertad has been attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic by some, the US embargo that was placed in 1960 by others, and Cuba’s communist policies by others. But can the country’s economic woes be attributed to just one of these? Let’s take a look at each:

The pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Cuba showed signs of entering an economic crisis long before this time. That spiky little virus that caused US state leaders to panic and close their respective economies. It prompted many domestic discussions about libertad and state authority.

Evidence that appears later in this article suggests that the pandemic is not to blame for the current Cuban economic crisis.

The US embargo

The US placed an embargo on the island nation in 1960, placed by then-Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The embargo was placed in response to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro nationalizing all industries in Cuba, raised tariffs on US imports and established trade relations with the Soviet Union. The US and Soviet Union were well into the decades-long Cold War, and a nation just 90 miles from Florida establishing relations with an adversary was enough to heighten US concerns.

The Eisenhower embargo cut off almost all trade relations with Cuba. In 1962, then-Pres. John F. Kennedy strengthened the embargo to end all relations with the island. The embargo, which has never been lifted led to a United Nations-estimated $160 billion loss over the next six decades. The US also recognized Cuba as a terrorist state over this time. Libertad!

Then-Pres. Barack Obama briefly restored diplomatic ties with the Castro regime, taking Cuba off the terrorist watch list, announcing a reopening of the US embassy in Havana and conducting a prisoner exchange with Cuba. Obama visited Cuba in 2016, becoming the first sitting US president to do so in nearly a century.

In June 2017, then-Pres. Donald Trump announced an end to US business relations with Cuba and reinstates the travel ban repealed by Obama. In January 2021, Trump places Cuba back on the terrorism watch list. Current Pres. Joe Biden has voiced support for Cuban demonstrators and made a plea to the Cuban government to listen to its people. He has not lifted the Cuban embargo. Libertad!

Cuba’s communist policies

Cuba has been a communist nation for just as long as it has had an embargo placed on it by the US. Some cite the embargo, while others cite the Cuban government.

Cuba’s trade relations with the Soviet Union also began around this same time. The son of a pro-Spain fighter in the Spanish-American War, Castro is remembered as a student of the socialist ideology. Another large communist country, China, did not have the ability to compete with the USSR, putting a severe limit on Cuba’s options around the globe. Libertad!

Cuba was able to nationalize its industries, particularly agriculture, with assistance from the USSR. The USSR also supplied Cuba with military aid. This continued until 1990, when communism collapsed in the Soviet bloc, bringing an end to an era of US-Soviet tensions. The collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in a time of economic uncertainty for the island. Libertad!

Over time, Cuba also racked up billions in debt that it has not been able to pay back. Cuba’s foreign debt was a self-reported $18.2 billion in 2016. Libertad!

Conclusion

Evidence would suggest that multiple factors have led to Cuba’s current crisis. The Cuban people are calling for an end to the policies that have ruled the island for the past six decades. The Cuban government blames the US embargo and US sanctions. The US blames Cuban communist policies.

Who is right and who is wrong? Or do they share the blame? Let us know in the comments on this post on Facebook at www.facebook.com/beinglibertarian, or on twitter @beinlibertarian.

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