U.S. policy implicated in the economic crisis driving Cuban protests
Beatriz Johnson Urrutia (center), the First Secretary of the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party in Santiago de Cuba, speaks directly with people demonstrating against food and electricity shortages on Sunday. | Photo via Juventud Rebelde

This report takes advantage of the cogent observations (see below) of Professor Isaac Saney, former co-chairperson of the Canadian Network on Cuba and Coordinator at Dalhousie University for Black and African Diaspora Studies.

Hundreds of Cubans demonstrated peacefully in Santiago de Cuba and other cities across the island on March 17. Portrayed in some U.S. corporate media outlets as “anti-government” protests, the demonstrations were focused on electrical power outages and food shortages.

The protests were reacting to an accumulation of great economic difficulties that have assaulted Cubans and their government alike for decades.

Cuba is in the midst of a sharp economic crisis. Surging inflation is battering the economy, which shrank by almost 2% last year. Fuel prices rose by more than 500% just this month, while electricity rates climbed 25%.

Exports for 2023 were far below predictions, food production was less than 2022, and tourism income has only recovered to 69% of pre-COVID levels. Shortages of fuel and other supplies—largely because of the U.S. blockade—continues to hamper production in most sectors.

The dire circumstances are driving a mass exodus of Cubans; 425,000 migrants arrived in the United States in 2022 and 2023. Among those leaving are 9% of Cuba’s healthcare workers and thousands of educators. These departures have further aggravated the economic situation.

Responding to the Sunday demonstrations, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel pointed out on social media that “enemies of the Revolution are trying to take advantage of a context [of shortages] for destabilizing purposes.” He noted, “In the last hours we have seen how terrorists based in the United States…are encouraging actions against the country’s internal order.”

On March 18, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. chargé d’affaires Benjamin Ziff—there’s been no U.S. ambassador to Cuba since 1960—where he received a formal note of protest that referred to “interventionist behavior and slanderous messaging by the U.S. government and its embassy.”

While communicating the urgency of the situation, Díaz-Canel explained that his government’s approach would be “to attend to the complaints of our people, listen, dialogue, explain the numerous efforts that are being carried out to improve the situation, always in an atmosphere of tranquility and peace.”

In this screenshot from video circulating on social media, Cubans in the city of Santiago de Cuba protest food and electricity shortages on Sunday. | via X

The predicament for Cuba is evolving. It’s apparent that upcoming reactions from Cuba’s government, the international solidarity community, and by Cubans themselves will unfold according to economic and historical imperatives that are by no means new.

For insight, we turn to Isaac Saney’s analysis that was released on March 18. Excerpts follow:

Recent events in Cuba illustrate how intense the imperial pressures on the island nation are. It always bears underscoring that every effort to defy imperialism’s dictate and build a new society has faced unrelenting Western destabilization and sabotage: from the Haitian Revolution to numerous African, Asian, and Latin American national liberation projects. …

There is no doubt that Washington will spare no efforts to manipulate the current situation in Cuba through the use of various social media and digital platforms in order to further destabilize the situation. Moreover, it was recently revealed that U.S. intelligence agencies have been directly intervening in the Cuban economy to artificially inflate prices, stimulate inflation, and cause greater shortages of already scarce goods.

Cuba has faced—and is facing—the longest economic siege in history from the most powerful military and economic imperial power that has ever existed. Like the Haitian Revolution, the Cuban Revolution is the unforgivable example that must be destroyed. Washington’s overarching strategy aims at denying and eradicating Cuba’s right to self-determination, sovereignty, and independence.

The empire has never accepted the verdict of the Cuban people. It has waged an unceasing economic war and campaign of destabilization aimed at restoring U.S. imperialism’s domination and tutelage.

Cuba has repeatedly repelled the unceasing all-sided, military, economic, financial, and propagandistic assault by U.S imperialism.

Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the United States has relentlessly pursued an ongoing assault on the Cuban people, employing both military and economic, including orchestrating invasions, assassinations, and terrorist attacks against civilians, as well as engaging in systematic economic sabotage. …

The sinister goal is to coerce the Cuban people into submission by strangling the economy, creating shortages, hardships, and exacerbating social inequalities—the very issues the Cuban Revolution has tirelessly worked to eliminate. This strategy seeks to instigate massive social unrest that would then serve as a pretext for U.S. intervention.

…The U.S. economic war against Cuba extends beyond U.S. borders, affecting businesses from other countries engaged in or seeking trade with Cuba. It stands as the primary impediment to Cuba’s social and economic progress, representing a blatant violation of the human rights of the Cuban people, costing the island nation more than $1 trillion U.S., underscoring its profound and detrimental effects.

A poignant testament on the criminality and immorality of the U.S. economic blockade was the Nov. 2, 2023, United Nations vote, when for the 31st time—with a vote of 187 to 2—the international community resoundingly rejected and condemned Washington’s economic war against Cuba.

Cuba faces significant—and what, for many, may seem overwhelming—challenges. However, the Cuban people have repeatedly shown themselves capable of meeting the challenges they take up.


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.