Cubans at a protest rally, wearing masks with hands raised.

Cubans spilled out into the streets to protest the blockade and lack of vaccine support. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

As thousands of Cubans spilled out into streets across the Island in the largest protests against the government in a generation, academics, social justice organizations and national leaders have called on America to take stock of U.S. policies toward Cuba that have added to the Island nation’s suffering.

Rolling power blackouts, food and medicine and medical supply shortages, and a wave of Covid-19 that is out pacing the nation’s ability to administer a scant vaccine supply are the fault lines that have caused Cubans to take to the streets this week in protest.

Black Lives Matter condemns the U.S. federal government’s inhumane treatment of Cubans and urges it to immediately lift the economic embargo.”

The social justice organization issued a statement on Twitter, July 14, urging the Biden Administration to lift the current economic embargo against Cuba, indicating the embargo is responsible for nation-wide destabilization.

“This cruel and inhumane policy, instituted with the explicit intention of destabilizing the country and undermining Cuban’s own right to choose their government, is at the heart of Cuba’s current crisis,” according to Black Lives Matter.

DeWayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University School of Global Journalism, has sponsored field trips since 2000 for journalists and students to get first-hand experience in Cuba.  He, too, sees the U.S. economic embargo combined with the Covid-19 pandemic as contributing factors to the multi-layered crisis in Cuba.

“Anyone who has been to Cuba recently understands that for half a century, Cuba has been under severe economic pressure from the United States. That’s the backdrop of this crisis that should not be ignored,” Wickham said.

Former President Barack Obama sought to normalize relations with Cuba, opening tourism, educational and professional activity.  In 2017, former President Trump rolled back many of the Obama era efforts, and in 2019, imposed even stiffer sanctions on Cuba and as well as other nations who do business with Cuba.

These new restrictions, plus U.S. denial of vaccine support has sent Cuba’s residents into the streets, Wickham noted. “You combine an economic boycott and the denial of vaccine support to a country only 90 miles from the U.S. shoreline, and yes the frustration of the population goes up.” Wickham said. We are giving vaccine to people all over the world, but none to Cuba. The intent is to create a desperate situation.”

U.S. House of Representatives members and committee leadership are also pressuring the U.S. to lift the embargo against Cuba this week. “I call on President Biden to help alleviate the suffering in Cuba by rescinding the Trump era sanctions and offering additional humanitarian and vaccine assistance to the Cuban people.” U.S. Rep. Gary Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement July 12.

Meeks joined more than 75 House members including Representatives Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who appealed to President Biden in March to lift the additional sanctions placed on Cubans by the Trump Administration.

In a letter issued March 2, the legislators identified the shortages that have led to this summer’s protests: ”At a time when Cubans are facing acute shortages of food and medicine exacerbated by their preventive economic shutdown, which has helped to limit the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. With the stroke of a pen, you can assist struggling Cuban families and promote a more constructive approach by promptly returning to the Obama –Biden Administration policy of engagement and normalization.”

International leaders have also added their voices to urge Biden to discontinue the Trump administration’s repressive Cuban restrictions. “The first thing that should be done is to suspend the blockade of Cuba as the majority of countries in the world are asking,” said Mexican President Lopez Obrador.

“That would be a truly humanitarian gesture,” he added. “No country in the world should be fenced in, blockaded.”

The Biden administration has encouraged Cuban protests but stopped short at suggesting any change in the status of the current economic sanctions. In a statement released from the White House this week Biden urged the Cuban government to “hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment.”

Cuban President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez responded to Biden’s comments by suggesting that trade sanctions implemented during the Trump administration, have not been lifted by Biden. “Is it not very hypocritical and cynical that you block me that you, who carry out policy that violates human rights of an entire people for more than 60 years, intensify it in the midst of a situation as complex as the pandemic, and you want to present yourself as the big savior?” said Díaz-Canel via Twitter.

Image of Twitter post by Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Carnel Bermudez and its translation.

Tweet from Cuban President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez. (Courtesy screenshot)

“Lift the blockade. Lift the 243 measures, and we will see how we get along,” said Díaz-Canel.

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