By Miguel Sorans
13 July 2021. Diaz Canel’s government and the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) say “the United States orchestrates and finances these protests”. It is a lie. Of course, imperialism wants to use these protests to its advantage. But the underlying causes lay in the austerity policies applied by the Cuban government in January, which have deepened social inequality. Cuban-style capitalism has existed in Cuba for decades.
On the left, we say the popular protests in Cuba are completely genuine. Cuban people took to the streets because they could no longer put up with the poverty, the serious deterioration of their standard of living. Of course, imperialism has its share of responsibility for the Cuban social crisis through its historic blockade and the latest sanctions. But the blockade, which we have always repudiated and fought against, is only one element, but not the fundamental cause of the serious social situation suffered by the Cuban people.
The blockade, established in the 1960s, failed because of the resistance of the Cuban people and the world’s support for the Cuban revolution. Today it is very limited and partial. For decades, Cuba has had commercial and political relations with almost every country in the world. Since the 1990s, under the leadership of Fidel and Raul Castro, private foreign investment has been facilitated under joint ventures with multinationals, especially from the European Union and Canada. The PCC, following China’s lead, restored capitalism to the island. This is the sad truth. This is the real economic-social framework that explains the unprecedented social outburst of 11 July.
The capitalist austerity of January 2021
It is precisely the PCC bureaucracy that has always used the argument of the “blockade” to justify the fact that there is no freedom. For example, Cuban workers have been earning 15-dollar wages in Spanish or Canadian multinationals in the tourist sector for years, or in the Corporación Cuba Ron SA, owned by Cuban business owners and the French company Ricard Pernod (producer of Chivas Regal whisky). Meanwhile, the PCC leaders, the military and the new bourgeoisie live like rich people, with their privileges and in luxurious areas. A few months ago, Tony Castro, one of Fidel Castro’s grandsons, shared on his social networks’ images of his expensive trips to Paris and Spain. He also posted photos of himself driving a BMW in a lavish tourist spot in Cuba. This provoked great indignation.
What set off the fuse was not an “imperialist conspiracy” but the brutal austerity measures implemented by the Cuban government in January this year. President Miguel Diaz Canel called the labour and price reforms “Management Tasks”. The government ended the long period of two currencies in Cuba, the Cuban peso and the convertible peso CUC. With this, they decreed a paltry wage increase and a notable increase in the prices of popular goods. A typical capitalist austerity plan. So “orthodox” that it was even announced that it aimed at “encouraging private investment”. Along with this, “the majority participation of foreign capital in joint ventures (…) in the financial sector includes firms with totally foreign capital” (Clarín, 19 December 2020, page 36). The minimum wage rose from 500 pesos (20 dollars) to 2,100 pesos (87 dollars), but the prices of food, cleaning, gas, electricity and transport went up well above the wage increase. In these months, higher inflation and capitalist speculation with the dollar was unleashed. This resulted in a de facto devaluation (the official dollar of 24 pesos is already at 60 pesos in the parallel market) that ended up liquefying the already poverty salary. All of which has led to greater shortages. The Cuban people queue endlessly for food, suffer electricity outages, and amid the pandemic, there is a shortage of medicines. Showing the deterioration of the once first-class health service.
All this exploded on Sunday 11 July, in San Antonio de Los Baños, 38 km from Havana, and quickly spread to other towns and Havana itself. Thousands took to the streets to demand food, medicine and to repudiate the government and its austerity plan. This is how the members of the editorial Collective of Communists’ Blog explained it: “This afternoon the Cuban people took to the streets. People not called by any organisation but by the acute economic crisis and the government’s inability to handle the situation. Cubans took to the streets with the misguided slogan ‘Patria y vida’ (Homeland and Life – as opposed to Homeland or Death), but it took to the streets, not for the slogan but to demand real socialism from the government”. Some of its members were arrested, among them the Marxist historian Frank Garcia Hernandez.
Let us support the popular protest and the freedom of all those arrested
Demonstrations in Cuba are like the ones in Chile, Colombia, Peru or Brazil against austerity measures. Many fighters may believe that it is different in Cuba. But it is not. In Cuba, socialism does not longer exist. It is a repressive one-party regime. As in China and Vietnam, it governs for the nouveau riche and their alliances with the multinationals. Poverty and inequality are growing in Cuba. That is why these popular protests could be the starting point for a change. We know that in these processes there are pro-American sectors, allied to the Miami exiles (gusanos) who will want to use these mobilisations to set up their government. As revolutionary socialists we encourage workers’ and popular mobilisation, to put an end to the austerity measures in the path towards a government of the working class and socialism with workers’ and popular democracy. For this, we fight to build a new revolutionary leadership that takes up the banners of Che and the first socialist revolution.
The protests continue, and there is already one death because of repression. The IWU-FI supports the Cuban people and calls on all those who claim to be anti-imperialist and left-wing around the world to show solidarity. To defeat the austerity plan, against repression, to the right to protest and to free the detainees.
The author is a leading member of Socialist Left, Argentina and the IWU-FI.