Cubans initiate new wave of protests over blackouts and hunger

Ilustración de Global Voices

This story was written by an author in Cuba under the pseudonym Luis Rodriguez.

More than a year has passed since the historic protests of July 11, 2021 in Cuba and a new wave of demonstrations continues to shake the island. The structural causes that triggered them not only lay beneath the surface, but have worsened as the political, economic, and social crises worsen. In 2022, blackouts have been aggravated by failures in thermoelectric plants, and the shortage of food and medicines has increased. New, bigger protests have emerged after Hurricane Ian left two days of blackout in Cuba in its wake. Cubans have participated in over 30 protests throughout the country since Sept. 29. This is deemed a “new social outburst” by local media.

In 2021, people took to the streets to protest against the increase in inflation, the dollarization of the economy, and power cuts in the difficult context of the COVID-19 pandemic. After those unforgettable days deemed unprecedented in Cuba, which spread to the rest of the country, life has not changed much. The Cuban regime brutally repressed the protests and the failed civic march called for Nov. 15 of that year, imposing excessive prison sentences on many demonstrators. This context generated a migratory crisis with an exodus of Cubans from Nicaragua to the U.S. that exceeds the number of those from the Mariel boatlift in 1980.

This civic spirit of resistance that was ignited last year has been present in the systematic protests that have taken place in the interior of the country during 2022, especially since June. Most of the protests have been focused in various locations in the provinces because these are the places that suffer the most from blackouts. Before Hurricane Ian, they have been small in comparison with the one that took place on July 11, 2021, in Havana, but they are a sign of the generalized discontent in the country due to the inability of the regime to find solutions to the country's energy problems.

Cacerolazos and virtual appeals from mothers

In recent months, protesters tended to speak out against blackouts and food shortages by banging pots and pans, known as cacerolazos. Many have their faces covered to avoid being identified by the regime's forces.

The Observatorio Cubano de Conflictos (the “Cuban Observatory of Conflicts”) reports a total of 624 protests between July and August of this year, of which 263 occurred in July and 361 in August. Most of them took place in the form of cacerolazos and were concentrated in the province of Artemisa, followed by Cienfuegos, Holguín, and Camagüey. This is “an average of more than 11 public demonstrations per day,” the report states.

#ULTIMAHORA in #Holguin the people are in the streets for the second night in a row. The #Cuban dictatorship lost [the support of] the youth, the people and the street. #Cuba #CubaInTheStreetsNOW

The first of the new wave of protests occurred on June 14 at the University of Camagüey in the center-west of the country. In the midst of a blackout, university students shouted the slogan “¡Pongan la corriente, pinga!” [Put the power back on, pinga!], which has gone viral on social media and continues to be heard in almost every corner of the country where these protests take place. “Pinga” is a colloquial Cuban expression that refers to the male sexual organ.

Young Cubans lost their fear. University students in Camagüey protest massively for lack of electricity and water. 🔥

In many of these protests, Cubans are not satisfied with just the restoration of electricity. They cry out “Patria y Vida,” which was the most frequent slogan of the demonstrators last year, and advocate for the change in the political system. Despite the ruthless and systematic repression of the regime, many Cubans are fed up with Cuban socialism and now use social networks to denounce and express social discontent.

The digital space also has a new element. Women in particular make direct messages on YouTube where they burst out in catharsis expressing their discontent with the crisis, even crying on social media. This usually has an impact online — for example, Amelia Calzadilla's video went viral in June.

Amelia Calzadilla, an unknown young woman, caught the attention of social media when she demanded better living conditions for herself as a single mother because her salary was barely enough to support her family. Her video went viral on social networks and immediately many mothers were openly in solidarity with Amelia. The impact was such that it set a precedent because the government reached out to her and solved some concrete problems that also affected the quality of life around her, such as access to gas for her street.

The motto of many mothers (and some fathers) who expressed themselves on social media was ¡Todas somos Amelia! (“We are all Amelia!”), as the first anniversary of July 11 in Cuba approached.

The streets were militarized in concern that more protests would erupt on July 11. In the media sphere, the official spokespersons deployed a propaganda campaign aimed at an artificial image of normality and political stability in the country, especially through their TV program Con Filo. During the night of July 11, the program broadcasters expressed that nothing had happened and that this had been a triumph of the Revolution.

The following day social media reported images of a strong protest with pots and pans in Los Palacios in Pinar del Rio demanding the reestablishment of electricity and freedom. Since that moment this wave of protests has increased. In August 2022 a group of women, together with children, closed a central highway artery demanding the presence of President Miguel Diaz Canel who never showed up to talk to the protesters.

#OnVideo. Cubans close National Highway in Havana in protest against the regime; they demand Diaz-Canel's presence.

The most recent protests include violent confrontations between the police and citizens in Nuevitas in mid-August, as they attempted to arrest some opposition leaders and members of the community, resulting in a number of injuries. The U.S. Embassy in Havana issued another statement on the matter and denounced the repression against the demonstrators.

In September there were fewer protests, but they erupted again in the wake of Hurricane Ian. On Sept. 20, Father José Conrado Rodríguez wrote an open letter to Pope Francis asking him to break his silence regarding authoritarian leftist governments, including Cuba. No solution has been found to the country's energy crisis and the regime continues to refuse to accelerate the political transition that many Cubans demand immediately.

Ed. note: This translation has been updated to incorporate the latest protests in Cuba.

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