Cuba was shaken last Sunday by a wave of popular protests. In the streets of Havana and twenty other cities, social discontent was expressed. Hunger, unemployment, food shortages, the inability of the health system to control the pandemic and, as if that were not enough, the revulsion towards the dictatorship of an oligarchy concentrated in the upper echelons of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) – the only one allowed in the country – and the armed forces make up the background to the demonstrations.
IWL-FI IS Statement
The Cuban president and top leader of the PCC, Miguel Díaz-Canel, condemned the protests, using the typical manoeuvre of labelling any legitimate protest by the people as destabilising acts orchestrated and financed by the US and other counter-revolutionary agents: “We will not allow any counter-revolutionary, any mercenary, any sold-out to the US government, sold-out to the empire, receiving money from the agencies, allowing themselves to be carried away by all the strategies of ideological subversion to create instability and chaos in our country.” He assured that his government was “ready for anything and we will be in the streets fighting”, calling on his most loyal followers to “confront” those dissatisfied with the established order. Finally, Castro’s successor declared: “The order to fight has been given: the revolutionaries will hit the streets.”
Hundreds were imprisoned and hundreds wounded. It is difficult to know to what extent the protests continue, mainly due to the censorship and restrictions on internet use imposed by the Cuban dictatorship. On the other hand, many of the news handed out by the “gusanos” in Miami are unreliable.
We cannot yet state clearly the dynamics of the ongoing process. But it is undeniable that we are facing a new situation. In any case, what has happened since 11 July is related to other important, albeit smaller and more localised, outbreaks of struggle that had already been taking place, such as the mobilisations of artists and intellectuals on 27 November 2020 and the attempts to organise the LGBTI+ pride independently of the Cuban government.
To find an event similar to that of 11 July, it is necessary to go back to 1994, when the Maleconazo uprising took place in Havana during the Special Period. But that demonstration, although significant, was limited to a few hundred people and to the capital. The presence of Fidel Castro and the efficient repression of a “rapid response group” was enough to disperse the protest, even before many provinces in the interior knew of its existence. Now it seems to be different. Protests occurred from one end of the island to the other. On the other hand, social media make it much more difficult for the regime to hide what is happening in the country.
News of the protests on the island immediately sparked controversy over whether or not to support the protests and the character of the protests, while old debates about the character of the Cuban state and its regime were revived.
Why are the Cuban people mobilising?
Despite the well-known problems in obtaining reliable data in Cuba, it seems certain that the pandemic was under relative control in 2020. But this year, the health crisis worsened. There are testimonies of hospitals collapsing and people dying at home, without basic care. As throughout the capitalist world, the health crisis exacerbated preexisting hardships.
This tense atmosphere led to the protests that broke out on Sunday in San Antonio de los Baños, a city southwest of Havana, and then spread like wildfire throughout the Caribbean country. In addition to the health crisis, deprivation and constant blackouts were at the centre of popular demands. In Artemisa, a province in the west of the island, a woman took part in a protest shouting: “People are starving… our children are starving!”
Díaz-Canel went to San Antonio de los Baños to try to calm things down. The magnitude of the process made him admit that among the discontented there were “people with legitimate dissatisfaction with the situation they are living, and also confused revolutionaries.” He went on to say that the “confused” would be nothing more than elements manipulated by “opportunists, counter-revolutionaries and mercenaries paid by the US government to stage this type of demonstration”.
The regime’s response was not limited to a smear campaign. Physical repression was also very harsh. The action of the police and mobs linked to the government apparatus that dispersed and arrested demonstrators was followed by the deployment of the elite group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba (FAR), known as the “black berets”, which began to beat and tear gas the crowd. This occurred alongside an internet and electricity cut in the most combative neighbourhoods. As this happened, Díaz-Canel raised his tone: “We are ready to give our lives. They have to step over our dead bodies if they want to confront the revolution. We are ready for anything.”
But the truth is that the mobilisation and the growing anger among the Cuban people responds to questions that the ruling capitalist dictatorship and its supporters want to hide: the restoration has wiped the gains of the revolution off the map and deepened in Cuba the same evils that we know in other Latin American nations: hunger, misery, shortages, unemployment, health crisis, increasing inequalities, to which is added a process of social decomposition.
For this reason, the IWL-FI not only support the current protests by the Cuban people but, as in other processes of unrest taking place in Latin America and elsewhere, call for the deepening of mobilisation, the independent organisation of the workers and the poor people, until the capitalist austerity plans and the governments that apply them are defeated.
Economic blockade and capitalist restoration
Cuba has a symbolic meaning for any left party or militant in the world. This means that any event or debate on Cuba ignites passions.
It is no wonder. It was the first triumphant socialist revolution in the American continent. The elimination of bourgeois private property from 1961 onwards; the socialisation of major means of production, put at the service of a planned economy; and state control of foreign trade made possible great achievements in the material and cultural fields on the island. Unfortunately, all this is part of a past of which the capitalist restoration fulfilled by Castroism itself has erased all traces.
The U.S. economic blockade was and is an imperialist crime that must be defeated. For this, a united mobilisation, beginning with the peoples of Cuba and the U.S., is necessary. But the struggle to end imperialist aggressions against Cuba – or any other weaker nation – cannot confuse and drive us to politically support its government or regime.
The attempt to blame the blockade as the only cause for the ills in Cuba hides the basic problem: What ownership system does the Cuban state defend and preserve?
What leads to the grievances that are at the basis of the unrest is the result of the capitalist restoration led by the very Cuban government. These demands are no different from those that have triggered other upheavels in Latin America and the world. The fight against pandemics, health, employment, electricity and fair public services, etc., are the same demands that are being made in Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Brazil…
For political and electoral reasons, Republican and Democratic politicians in the U.S. maintain the lobby for the blockade. The struggle between the Cuban bourgeoisie in Miami and the Cuban regime to take advantage of the capitalist restoration carried out by the state should not confuse us.
What, for example, does the Association of Spanish Businessmen in Cuba have to say about the blockade? This “association” represents more than 200 firms based in the Caribbean country, mainly in the hospitality and certain industrial services sectors, including hotel giants such as Meliá Hotels International and Iberostar.
Canadian mining companies, rightly hated by all environmentalists and communities in Latin America, also do business with the Cuban government. The mining company Sherrit International is in charge of nickel mining in Cuba, in partnership with the Cuban government. Trade between Cuba and Canada has exceeded US$ 1 billion annually and Canadian companies have invested in key sectors for the country’s economy, such as nickel production, electricity generation and oil exploration.
There are also Italian companies investing in the agricultural, agro-industrial and tourism sectors. There are about 60 French companies investing in the agri-food sector, tourism, shipping, construction, energy, industrial equipment and transport.UAE companies, on the other hand, are interested in investing in biotechnology. Russian companies are investing in computer communications, transport and energy. Brazilian companies are investing in cigarettes.
But most importantly, the “heart” of the new Cuban capitalism is the Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (Gaesa), which is the economic conglomerate of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). They control the Gaviota Tourism Group (hotels, travel agencies, car rental), the Tecnotex and Tecnoimport groups (imports and exports), TRD Caribe (retail supermarkets), the Union of Military Constructions and Almest Real Estate, as well as the management of the Mariel Integral Development Zone and Almacenes Universales (port, customs and transport services).
In other words, the command of the Cuban army is associated in many ways with Spanish, Canadian, French, Italian, Brazilian, etc. capitalists. Although it is difficult to determine its size, the armed forces economic group could control between 30 and 40 per cent of the Cuban economy, and 90 per cent of the retail market operating in dollars on the island.
The transformation of the generals into “efficient” managers was mainly the work of Raúl Castro. And this imposes on Cuban capitalism a military, authoritarian character, based on the connection between state and army.
This is the deeper meaning of the struggle with the “gusanos” operating in Miami. While the local bourgeoisie and European imperialism hold the investments and properties in their hands, the Cuban bourgeoisie outside the island is lagging behind.
The only ones who suffer from the lack of medicines and staple goods, as a result of the blockade, are those at the bottom. We demand an end to the blockade. But let’s not fool ourselves, the U.S. blockade of Cuba is part of a political struggle in the context of capitalist restoration. We are against the blockade of Cuba, because of its effect on Cuban households. However, we want to be clear: the end of the blockade should not change the just demands or stop the demonstrations of the Cuban people against the effects of capitalism led by the Cuban CP. In short, in our opinion, a dictatorship that carried out the restoration cannot be anything other than a capitalist dictatorship, such as China’s, a dictatorial regime at the service of capital.
Solidarity just with the Cuban people
This means that we must denounce and fight back any imperialist interference or that of the factions of former Cuban capitalists who now act from exile. The Cuban people must not trust any speech or promise from Biden or any other imperialist representative. There is no greater hypocrisy than that of imperialism when it speaks of “peace” or “freedom”.
The political conditions imposed over the last 62 years turns back the struggle of the Cuban people to the fall of the Cuban capitalist dictatorship in 1959. This struggle must be based on a transitional programme, in a uninterrupted way, towards a new socialist revolution to recover the achievements of 1959, now on the basis of a working class democratic regime, against the false theories of “socialism in one country” to place itself as part of the struggle for the extension of the revolution to the whole planet.
Solidarity must be with the Cuban people, not with the Castro dictatorship. The perspective must be that of a new socialist revolution, not the defence of bureaucrats and the military, which became the new bourgeoisie long ago. And there will be no new revolution in Cuba without defeating the dictatorship of those who restored capitalism. This is the key to a revolutionary programme and policy for the crisis in Cuba.
Immediate release of political prisoners
This is what we think and defend. However, beyond the deep differences we have with Cuban regime supporters, we call all those who fight for workers’ democracy and against capitalist restoration in Cuba and the imperialist intervention to launch an immediate campaign for the freedom of the political prisoners. Solidarity with the fighters is part of the tradition of the international labour movement. We propose to wage a strong campaign together. Many prisoners, moreover, are well-known militants of the Cuban left and anti-imperialist fighters, some with several published articles.
We demand the immediate release of all fighters, in particular the historian Frank García, Leonardo Romero Negrín, a physics student at the University of Havana, Maykel González Vivero, director of the magazine Tremenda Nota, Marcos Antonio Pérez Fernández, a high school student, and other political prisoners.
Long live the struggle of the Cuban people!
Enough of capitalist dictatorship!
Release the political prisoners!
Against all imperialist interference!
Down with the blockade!