It’s a pleasant fantasy. The Cuban people rise up en masse to throw off the yoke of the Communists and their odious system of oppression. They bring peace and prosperity to their island nation after six decades of poverty and suffering.
But then, reality hits and the fantasy disappears.
But another protest flared late Monday in the southern Havana suburb of La Guinera, where one man died and several others, including members of the security forces, were hospitalized with injuries, according to state-run media on Tuesday.
It did not say what caused the death. No other deaths and injuries have been officially confirmed so far.
Hundreds had taken to streets in La Guinera, shouting slogans like ‘down with communism,’ and ‘freedom for the people of Cuba,’ according to two residents and video footage seen by Reuters. Some started throwing rocks at security forces who eventually responded with gunfire, said resident Waldo Herrera, 49.
“I think the Communists have lost control, they won’t have a solution to this situation,” he said. “The people are tired of so much humiliation, so much repression.”
The people may be tired, but the government has the guns. Rocks vs. automatic weapons is not a good matchup.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel tried to rally his supporters to defend the government. In an address on Monday evening, Diaz-Canel did his best Fidel Castro imitation.
“We are not going to let any counterrevolutionary, mercenary, U.S. government sellout, imperial sellout create destabilization in our country… We are ready to do anything and we will be on the street fighting… The order to combat has been given. Revolutionaries: to the streets,” he said.
International relations scholar Daniel Rey thinks the protests are significant.
The last time Cuba’s government faced a popular mobilization was in 1994, when hundreds of demonstrators in Havana protested the handling of the economy in the years after the Soviet collapse. On that occasion, the march was broken up by the arrival of Fidel Castro and his anti-riot police. This time, thanks to social media, the protests spread instantaneously across the country.
Hammered by financial constraints, there have been many times when Cuba’s communist government has been ‘on the brink’. But Sunday’s demonstration feels more significant. After six decades of rule, the regime is facing the inevitable generational shift for which it seems ill-prepared. If previous generations felt a certain goodwill towards the revolution for its early achievements, in the face of blackouts, hunger and medical scarcities, millennials and Gen Zers see little reason to be loyal to an ineffective administration that began life in the 1950s.
During the Bay of Pigs invasion by U.S.-backed forces, tens of thousands of Cubans rallied to Castro’s defense. This time, about 300 pro-government protesters took to the streets while security forces opened fire on pro-freedom demonstrators.
As long as the military and security forces stay loyal to the government, the people don’t have a prayer of succeeding. They can try to organize via social media, but what happens when the government pulls the plug on the internet?
“The pattern of restrictions observed in Cuba indicate an ongoing crackdown on messaging platforms used to organize and share news of protests in real-time,” said NetBlocks director Alp Toker. NetBlocks track social media availability worldwide. “At the same time, some connectivity is preserved to maintain a semblance of normality.”
It’s clear that the critical mass for revolution has not yet been reached. The protests show no signs of growing into a mass, nationwide movement, although it wouldn’t take much from the government to light the fuse.
The Cuban Communists can breathe easier — for the moment.