At the beginning of July and for several days, citizens took to the streets in massive protests that have not been seen on the island since ‘El Malecónazo’. In a virtual event open to the public, experts will debate the social outburst that accentuated the conflict between the United States and the Cuban government.
September 5, 1994 was the first time that Cubans massively confronted the socialist regime on the Havana Malecon.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the US embargo on the island since 1992, led to a time of deep economic and financial crisis that Fidel Castro called “The Special Period in times of peace”, the biggest and most complex crisis in Cuba’s revolutionary history.
It was a time of severe shortages of food, medicines and basic personal hygiene products and clothing, long hours of electricity rationing and reduced transport services, among other scarcities.
The period was overcome, but the 60-year US blockade of Cuba has prevented Cubans from living a life free of economic worries. And the pandemic has exacerbated their vulnerability.
That is why Cubans took to the streets this 2021, in the largest protest to take place in Cuba in the last 60 years.
Unlike the Malecónazo, called by a popular sector in Havana, the massive demonstration on 11 July was called by the social media, Facebook and Twitter. The call was echoed in more than 20 localities around the country, starting in the city of San Antonio de los Baños, southwest of Havana.
Since then, several movements sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution have denounced the media war against the Cuban government.
For more than two decades, US sanctions prevented Cuba from accessing more than 30 fibre optic cables in the region. But in 2018, internet access in Cuba became possible and expanded across the island through Wifi hotspots and phone data. However, the Cuban state has denounced that the US has been quick to take advantage of this, encouraging the coordination of propaganda against Cuba’s socialist system through Facebook and Twitter.
Julián Macías Tovar, a Spanish political analyst, has shown that thousands of fake social media accounts were used to spread the hashtag SOSCuba to create the impression of a widespread uprising. Fake photos and videos were also disseminated through social media.
According to the Cuban government, social media-based propaganda programmes sponsored by US agencies such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) offer millions of dollars in prizes and grants to artists, intellectuals and social media influencers who wish to spread anti-communist messages, and those who do not are blocked or censored.
The Cuba Money Project reports the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) offered 2 million dollars in grants just ten days before the protests. These were, say event organisers, for “democracy promotion projects’, a green light for regime change. Pro-Trump, anti-communist Cuban rappers and musicians have been promoted by the US state department in an attempt to popularise anti-communism amongst Cuba’s youth”.
All of the above is an irrefutable reality for many.
However, amidst the information and counter-information, there are those who, taking advantage of the internet and social networks, have proclaimed their own truth: that of a deep discontent in some sectors of the population with the way the current government has handled not only the pandemic, but also the way it has dealt with the shortages of food and medicine. They also criticise the fact that there are privileges for some sectors or that they are harshly censored and/or detained for protesting.
The reality in Cuba is certainly not easy and disinformation from one side or the other does little to help hence the urgency of debating the issue with all sides. For this reason, the British campaign Rock Around the Blockade has organised the event “The social media war on Cuba” in order to answer questions such as: Why is the US determined to undermine the Cuban revolution? How has the US managed to create hostile social media campaigns against the Cuban state? What do Cubans on the island really think? Or does the revolutionary government still retain popular support?
Max Blumenthal, investigative journalist at The Grayzone; Reed Lindsay, journalist and filmmaker at the Cuban news and documentary platform Belly of the Beast; Helen Yaffe, Senior Lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow, author of “We are Cuba! How a Revolutionary People Survived in the Post-Soviet World”; a member of the Union of Cuban Journalists, and another from Rock Around the Blockade.