Reviews / Lucinda Elliott

Cuba in crisis

Driving an old Chevrolet under the neon lights of Havana without the mobile internet as a distraction has been the postcard image sold to millions of potential visitors to the island of Cuba; a regional utopia sheltered from external influences (especially from the reach of the big bad USA). That vision has been abruptly replaced this month with that of baton-wielding officers and state security storming ordinary Cuban homes.

The images sparked outrage across Latin America. From Buenos Aires to Bogotá, rallies in support of Cuban protesters were held over the past weekend in an unusual expression of solidarity. While the continent is known for its authoritarian policing – most recently in Colombia where at least 44 people have been killed in anti-government protests – this reputation had excluded Cuba (at least as seen by those living outside. ; most Cubans were well aware that they lived in a Communist police state). Today, Havana feels more isolated from the region than ever.

In addition to the protest images, there are important reasons why Cubans took to the streets in the first place. For weeks, they endured 12-hour power cuts, faced humiliating queues, and endured shortages of even basic medicine and food as the country struggles to contain one. of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. A local vaccine is being rolled out, but the decision not to import vaccines from overseas earlier this year set the island back even further. “Cuba’s public relations problem has exploded; the government made a huge mistake, ”a businessman from São Paulo, who worked in Cuba, told me. “What happened on Sunday means that it is no longer attractive to be involved in a country like this and I am sure other foreigners feel the same way.”

What happens next? Optimists say reformers within Cuba’s upper ranks will seek to address protesters’ grievances. A more likely scenario is that they are sidelined by the old guard and the regime crack down on dissidents more harshly. Unfortunately, I expect Cuba to seek to follow the lead of Venezuela and Nicaragua rather than some of its more enlightened Latin American neighbors.

Elliott is Monocle’s correspondent in Latin America. Hear more of his take on Cuba in “The Briefing” on Monocle 24.

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