What Happened in Santiago and Why

Beatriz Jhonson Urrutia, first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party in Santiago Province, met with demonstrators in Santiago on March 17. Photo courtesy of the government of Cuba

On March 17, in Santiago de Cuba, the nation’s second largest city, many people took to the streets and held a demonstration because of the long hours of electrical outages due to fuel shortages and other situations deriving from the current economic crisis.

The people who were demonstrating were asking for electricity and food. Some shouts of “Patria y Vida” (a slogan of the counter-revolutionary right) were heard from isolated groups within the mass of the people, but these were not taken up by the majority of those there, who were calling for “corriente y comida” (electricity and food).

There was a police presence, but no arrests were made. (This has not stopped the usual news distorters from publishing photos from other years and other places.)

Beatriz Jhonson Urrutia, the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party in the province, and other government civil servants have been present to engage in dialogue with the citizens and pay attention to their demands.

There have been no calls for violence from the demonstrators themselves, but media manipulators and others who are trying to achieve social destabilization in Cuba have posted calls for violence online.

The U.S. Embassy in Cuba, in a cynical and hypocritical statement, said, “We urge the Cuban government to respect the human rights of the protesters and attend to the legitimate needs of the Cuban people.” But it is precisely the U.S. government that is doing everything in its power to make sure that the Cuban government cannot improve the economic situation, thereby promoting the suffering of the people of Cuba.

Lester Mallory, a U.S. government official, wrote an internal memo on April 6, 1960, to initiate U.S. policy toward Cuba: “Most Cubans support Castro…There is no effective political opposition…The only possible way to make the government lose domestic support is by provoking disappointment and discouragement through economic dissatisfaction and hardships…

“Every possible means should be immediately used to weaken the economic life…denying Cuba funds and supplies to reduce nominal and real salaries with the objective of provoking hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government.”

That has continued to be the U.S. government policy to this day.

In response to the U.S. actions, on March 18, the chargé de affairs of the United States, Benjamin Ziff, was summoned to the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations by Vice-Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío, who conveyed to him a firm formal protest rejecting the conduct of interference and transmission of scurrilous messages by the government of the United States and its embassy in Cuba regarding Cuban current internal affairs.

In this meeting, attention was also called to the direct responsibility of the government of the United States for the difficult economic situation that Cuba is currently going through, and, specifically, for the shortages and difficulties that confront the people on a daily basis, with the economic depression and insufficiency of supplies and essential services under the burden of the economic blockade designed to destroy the economic capacities of the country.

The obvious determination of the U.S. government to limit and block every effort of the Cuban government to find solutions and respond to the economic and social needs of the country was condemned.

The plan of destabilization and its execution are evident to everyone who looks at the situation. It lies in the reinforcement of a merciless economic warfare to provoke and exploit the natural irritation of the population. Every year, tens of millions of U.S. federal government funds are spent to finance this “aggression against Cuba industry.” The United States takes advantage of a powerful technological infrastructure to manipulate online content produced in the United States for Cuban consumption. 

If the U.S. government truly had even the slightest honest concern for the welfare of the Cuban people, it would remove Cuba from arbitrary inclusion on the supposed list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, put an end to the persecution of fuel supplies that the country must import, cease to pursue and prosecute every financial transaction Cuba carries out anywhere in the world, put an end to the crude persecution of the programs of medical cooperation between Cuba and other countries of the world, and cease trying to intimidate all those who have an interest in interacting with the Cuban people and have the right to do so.

The National Network on Cuba (of which the author is proud to be a part, both as an individual and as co-chair of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s Cuba and the Bolivarian Alliance Issue Committee), a coalition of 70+ organizations across the United States working to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations and lift the blockade, issued a statement placing the responsibility for shortages and hardships in Cuba squarely where it truly rests: on the United States and its policy designed to achieve the result that we currently see.

“The economic crisis and unrest in Santiago de Cuba underscores the devastating impact of over six decades of illegal U.S. sanctions, the no-evidence-based designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, and the inflationary financial manipulation which have led to shortages of fuel, electricity and basic goods.

“Yesterday, people took to the streets in Santiago de Cuba expressing their frustration at the recent power outages. Miami regime-changers and U.S. government-funded propaganda outlets were quick to exploit these genuine frustrations into calls for the overthrow of the Cuban government, but this does not match the reality of the situation on the ground in Santiago, where the protests were completely peaceful and citizens engaged in dialogue with local leaders and law enforcement.

“In the words of the State Department itself, the goal of the U.S. blockade is to bring about ‘hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government’ in Cuba…We are seeing this policy play out in real time, and as people in the U.S., we have every responsibility to fight against U.S. attacks on Cuba’s sovereignty. True solidarity with the Cuban people necessitates respecting their right to self-determination, and demanding an end to external U.S. interventions which deny Cuba this right and aim to return Cuba to being a U.S. neocolony like Haiti (which the U.S. and its comprador states are preparing to invade yet again).

“We call for the U.S. to take Cuba off the ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’ list and lift all sanctions—measures that would immediately help alleviate Cuba’s economic crisis.”


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