Mexico City, Mexico — Singing songs of revolution and chanting slogans in support of the Cuban Revolution, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City on Saturday, July 17, in an expression of solidarity with the Cuban people and their right to self-determination.
The jubilant demonstration, organized by both Mexicans and Cubans, came as Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel grapples with a destabilization effort by right-wing opponents and U.S. politicians seeking to topple his government.
“We believe that solidarity is the essence of humanity,” Francisco Rojas from Va por Cuba Mexico, one of the organizations that organized the demonstration together with Association of Cuban Residents in Mexico and the Mexican Movement in Solidarity with Cuba, told Truthout.
A concerted misinformation campaign has been put into action by opponents of the Cuban Revolution after genuine protests broke out in Cuba earlier this month, with people taking to the streets in various cities to express their discontent with the government over real issues such as food shortages and electricity blackouts.
Longtime critics of the Cuban government such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), along with many U.S. politicians from both sides of the aisle, have sought to exploit the July 11 protests to drive a false narrative that those demonstrating took to the streets in protest against the communist system in Cuba.
With Cuba relying heavily on the income derived from tourism, which has all but dried up as a result of travel restrictions, the country has experienced an economic contraction of 11 percent in 2020, according to Economy Minister Alejandro Gil. Protesters made a diverse set of demands and criticisms, questioning the country’s slow COVID-19 vaccination rate and specifically asking for action by the government to mitigate the economic impact on those disproportionately affected by the fallout from the pandemic. In response to demands made by demonstrators, the Díaz-Canel government lifted restrictions on the amount of food and medicine travelers could bring into the country.
U.S. President Joe Biden, despite presiding over a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations when he served as Barack Obama’s vice president, was quick to issue a statement, saying the protests were a “clarion call for freedom” and employing Cold War-era tropes about communists enriching themselves at the expense of the population.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki went on an anti-communist rant, blaming the Cuban government and its “ideology” for the shortages of medical supplies in the country.
Aided by corporate media, those seeking regime change in Cuba have gone to extreme lengths to sell this narrative to the public. During a segment with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Fox News ran images of a protest in Cuba alongside the interview, but blurred the messages on the signs held by people in the photo. Internet users tracked down the unaltered image, finding that it was in fact from a pro-government rally, with the signs carrying revolutionary slogans.
Rojas told Truthout that these sorts of misinformation campaigns are nothing new, and drew comparisons to the experience of the U.S. war in Vietnam, the U.S.-backed coups in Chile and more recently in Bolivia, but argued that what is new is the use of social media toward this end. Experts on social media manipulation tactics found that there was evidence of inauthentic behavior surrounding the use of hashtags such as “SOSCuba” — which is being widely used by opponents of the Cuban government who call on the U.S. to directly intervene in the country.
“This distortion is done in a harmful way, very cunning, very manipulative, to try to sell a framing that does not correspond to reality,” said Rojas.
Despite this deliberate effort by U.S. politicians and mainstream media to depict the protest in Cuba as being driven by a unified, specific desire to completely end the communist system in Cuba, those at the demonstration in Mexico City argued that many joined the protests to demand their basic material needs, such as food and medical supplies.
During the pandemic, while Cuba was developing vaccines to eventually donate to low-income countries and sending doctors to heavily affected countries, the U.S. blockade was preventing the delivery of coronavirus aid from philanthropist Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group and one of the wealthiest people in the world.
“The Cuban people are aware of their needs; we do not deny them. There are shortages of food, medicine, transportation, gasoline — but we are besieged, a media siege but also an economic, commercial and financial siege,” Luis Ángel León López, a Cuban from Camagüey living in Mexico, told Truthout.
“We want the world to know there is a blockade,” said Yvonne Guerra, a Cuban woman who also attended the rally at the embassy.
Echoing calls by Cubans who took to the streets inside Cuba after President Díaz-Canel called on supporters to demonstrate in defense of the revolution, Guerra emphasized the need to respect Cuba’s sovereignty and rejected U.S. intervention.
“It is fundamentally about this: a call for Cubans to decide what needs to be decided in Cuba,” said Guerra.
Guerra also pointed to an infamous 1960 memorandum from U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester D. Mallory to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Roy Rubottom Jr. that calls for creating hardship and need for Cubans in order to prompt regime change.
“That is the goal, to create need, but they miscalculated, because among our needs, there is a need for dignity; the people of Cuba have dignity,” said Guerra.
José Eduardo Crespo, a Cuban living in Mexico for over 12 years, referenced a recent vote at the United Nations General Assembly, where for the 29th consecutive time, countries overwhelmingly rejected the U.S. blockade of Cuba by a vote of 184 to 2, with only the U.S. and Israel voting against it.
Rather than alleviating the embargo, U.S. policy makers have actually tried to use the fallout of the impact of the pandemic to tighten the screws on Cuba. Former President Donald Trump implemented nearly 250 new measures against the country in an effort to increase suffering as Cuba reeled from a loss of income from tourism. Biden has refused to lift even these measures, including the ban on remittances to Cuba.
“This is nothing new; they have been trying to overthrow us for 60 years,” said Crespo, who pointed to the United States’s decades-long foreign policy toward Cuba that has consistently fomented dissent.
The U.S. has long funded counterrevolutionary activities, both on and off the island. Writer Alan Macleod revealed how the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a foundation funded by the U.S. government that works to advance U.S. foreign policy interests, has recruited Cuban artists and musicians, some of whom ended up playing a key role in promoting recent protests for right-wing ends.
Meanwhile, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the U.S. should consider bombing the country.
Luis Ángel León López was strident in his criticism of the press coverage of protests in Cuba, arguing that media outlets have tried to craft a story and drive an interventionist narrative, rather than report on what is actually happening.
“They want to depict Cuba as a failed state, as a government that has failed, a process that has failed, from a political point-of-view, from an ideological point-of-view, from an economic point-of-view,” said León. “They lie, they shamelessly lie.”
While voices calling for U.S. intervention in Cuba have been amplified, other perspectives have been smothered.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador expressed his solidarity with the Cuban people and rejected interventionism and violence. He also dispatched his Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard to New York, where Mexico used its position as a member of the UN Security Council to call for an end to the blockade of Cuba.
José Eduardo Crespo expressed gratitude for Mexico’s position, calling it a “dignified” and “principled” stance.
The same voices calling for U.S. intervention in Cuba have also made demands to open a so-called humanitarian corridor, a concept that has been rejected by the Cuban leadership as a Trojan horse.
“Some in an intentional and manipulated way adduce the need to implement humanitarian corridors, humanitarian intervention,” said Ernesto Soberón, an official from Cuba’s Foreign Relations Ministry. “[These] are concepts and terms related to situations of armed conflict, serious violations of international humanitarian law, which in no way have anything to do with what is happening in our country today.”
The Cuban leadership has shown it is open to aid from abroad, so long as the motivations are truly humanitarian. Cuban Foreign Relations Minister Bruno Rodríguez expressed gratitude for a recent donation of 800,000 syringes by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which is presently led by Mexico as president pro-tempore. Organizers of Saturday’s demonstration also said they were engaged in a grassroots effort to donate supplies to Cuba.