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Cuba Is Starving Its People – Mary Anastasia O’Grady

The island’s latest hunger crisis is made in Havana. Don’t believe the propaganda blaming U.S. sanctions.
The island’s latest hunger crisis is made in Havana. Don’t believe the propaganda blaming U.S. sanctions. Street food in Havana, Feb. 20.- AFP

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Cubans took last week to the streets of Santiago, and other smaller cities on the eastern side of the island, to protest extreme food and medicine shortages and power outages. Some chanted “libertad” and “patria y vida.” The crowds mocked government officials.

In many ways it was a replay of July 11, 2021, when antigovernment protests exploded spontaneously across the island. Except this time Havana was prepared. It’s well aware of the hardship it created with its March 1 austerity package, sharply increasing food and fuel prices, and it anticipated the popular upheaval. Part of its planned response was to frame itself for international media as a kinder, gentler military dictatorship victimized by U.S. Cuba policy.

Step one was to cut off cellphone and internet signals immediately to stop the rapid dissemination of live events. Video of goons beating the tar out of unarmed civilians, as happened three summers ago during islandwide protests, would have embarrassed U.S. lawmakers like Rep. James McGovern (D., Mass.), who use their seats on Capitol Hill to argue the regime’s case against Cuba sanctions. It’s also no way to win over ethical members of Congress.

Santiago’s Communist Party boss, Beatriz Johnson, went up on a roof to “dialogue” with the public. Then she went on Cuban television claiming that the demonstrators weren’t at all at odds with her.

Dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel used Twitter to put lipstick on the pig, describing the protests in Santiago as “various people” having “expressed their dissatisfaction with the situation of electrical service and food distribution.” The dictatorship, he pledged, stands ready “to attend to the complaints of our people.”

The happy talk was designed for American consumption. On the ground in Cuba, locals told independent journalists that Ms. Johnson was met with insults and jeering. Protesters played conga rhythms as they chanted a vulgarity against Mr. Díaz-Canel. I received reports that in Santiago, El Cobre and Bayamo police went door to door to round up suspects thought to have engaged in dissent. The regime blamed the U.S. for the unrest.

Refined repression techniques and PR spin change nothing. The police state remains the same. So too does the age-old practice of using food as a weapon to control the population.

Cubans are hungrier and more desperate than any time during the revolutionary dictatorship launched in 1959. The online newspaper Diario de Cuba reported on March 7 that the nongovernmental organization Food Monitor Program claims it has evidence of a black market for cat meat. The newspaper said it couldn’t verify the story, but for sure eggs, chicken, fish and beef are rarities, as is basic medication. Food often spoils because of repeated and prolonged electricity outages.

The regime could reduce the suffering if it wished. The sea around the island is filled with protein but for most Cubans, owning a boat is prohibited. Farmers could feed people but aren’t allowed to market their produce. When things got out of hand last week, suddenly trucks arrived to distribute staples like sugar and rice. What’s up with that?

U.S. policy blocks Cuba from borrowing from American banks and inhibits the international laundering of its profits from human and drug trafficking. But it doesn’t stop Havana from buying food from the U.S. Cuba is an important destination for American agricultural products.

The problem is a shortage of hard currency. Much of what Cuba is able to get its hands on is spent on bribing the military, secret police and brown-shirts to do their dirty work against civilians. The NGO Cuba Archive says it has documented 79 “deaths and disappearances attributed to the Cuban state in 2023.”

The economic pie never grows because it’s controlled by a small number of Communist Party elites. A foreign investor can easily find himself in a Cuban dungeon, as did British citizen Stephen Purvis in 2011. His crime was running a business that regime honchos wanted.

At 92, Raúl Castro still holds power. There are no property rights. A “small business” reform is little more than the parceling out of the state-run companies to Castro friends and family. Those getting fat off Cuban misery include Manuel Marrero, a ruthless enforcer of the totalitarian state rumored to be waiting in the wings to succeed Mr. Díaz-Canel.

Communist Cuba once relied on the Soviet Union and later Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela to pay its bills. Both are now bust, and Cuba has reneged on billions of dollars in loans to more than 20 countries. There’s only one country of any significance that hasn’t had to eat a Cuban default in the past 65 years: the U.S.

So get ready to hear all about how the Americans are starving the Cuban people. And about how it could all be fixed if only the U.S. would change its Cuba policy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.

________________________________________________

Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes «The Americas,» a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis­-based Liberty Fund.  EnergiesNet.com does not necessarily share these views.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on March 24 2024. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.

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EnergiesNet.com 03 27 2024

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