Anti-Government Protests in Cuba: A Year On

By Laetitia Sanai

London, United Kingdom

Citizens protest against the Cuban government. (Sarah Silbinger / New York Times)

Just one year ago, more than a thousand protestors were arrested in some of the most violent anti-government uprisings in Cuba since 1959. Unconfirmed reports claim new riots are commencing. So, what was gained from the potentially game-changing challenges to political authority in July 2021?


Last year’s protests across Cuba resulted in many facing up to 30 years imprisonment on claimed charges of sedition, vandalism and severe public disorder following the arrest of over a thousand protestors, 700 of whom remain behind bars today. In what is considered a violation of basic human rights to freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest, Cuban authorities forcefully detained 1300 protestors. This number was only discovered after human rights organization Justicia 11J tracked cases in an attempt to inform families of those arrested. The harsh crackdown by Cuban authorities is thought to be a deterrence scheme to prevent future threats to authoritarian power from occurring. The Attorney’s General Office of Cuba described the demonstrations as an attack “against the constitutional order” of the Cuban government, after many protestors opposed the communist regime of Miguel Diaz-Canal, demanding liberty and political freedom. A large proportion of the protestors call for the President, who replaced Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl in 2018 as leader, to step down from office.


Protests in July 2021 surrounding power shortages, political outrage and economic damage to the state resulting from COVID-19 as well as a lack of available COVID vaccinations had little to no effect in improving socioeconomic conditions. The Cuban economy has shrunk 10.9% since COVID first hit from a lack of tourism, which has equally significant consequences on the cost of living crisis, with inflation reaching 23.7% in April 2022.


The protests had far-reaching impacts. (Yamil Lage / AFP / Getty Images)

The U.S. called on Cuban authorities to take action, describing protestors as “bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights”, causing conflict with the Cuban government which blamed the U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba as the cause for the uprisings. Donald Trump’s term in office heightened U.S. sanctions on Cuba in 2017, maintaining a comprehensive economic embargo on trade. Continued pressure on Biden to lift these sanctions has had little effect, with the current President announcing an ease of sanctions on travel and family remittances in Cuba in May, however trade and economic blocks remain largely in place.


A year on from the protests, little government action has been taken, with 700 people remaining in detention with overcrowded cells, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and insufficient medical care and ventilation. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concern that many were arrested with baseless and disproportionate criminal charges, contravening international law. With reports emerging of new protests in Cuba this week, citizens hope that the government will make the necessary structural changes to ensure the improvement of living conditions in Cuba.