Cuba announced on Wednesday (July 14) it was temporarily lifting restrictions on travelers bringing food, medicines and hygiene products into the island nation. Custom duties on these products will not need to be paid, and the relaxed measures will stay in place for the rest of the year.
The measure was taken after Cubans took to the streets over the weekend to protest chronic shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.
Anti-government activists in Cuba say over 100 activists, demonstrators and journalists have been detained or their whereabouts are unknown, following widespread protests, marking the most significant unrest in decades. One person died during clashes with police on Monday (July 12), Cuba’s Ministry of Interior said Tuesday, according to local Radio Rebelde.
The Caribbean country of 11,193,470 people, undergoes a grave economic crisis aggravated by coronavirus and US sanctions. Tourism- upon which Cuba is heavily reliant- and good imports have dropped steeply during the pandemic. The economy shrunk by 11% in 2020 and is thought to be doing worse this year.
Meanwhile, US-Cuban relations are at their lowest point in years. So far, US President Joe Biden seems reluctant to lift the tough economic measures against Cuba which were enacted by the Trump administration. However, the U.S. embargo on Cuba is the longest trade sanction in modern history, having been in place on nearly all exports since 1962, when President John F. Kennedy was in office.
Cuban officials blame the US for stirring up the protests. Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel
during a televised address on Monday, said protesters have been manipulated into blaming the Cuban government by American media.
Diaz-Canel, 61, who recently succeeded Raúl Castro as the Communist party’s top figure said the U.S. “politics of economic asphyxiation” was having a “cumulative effect” on his country. He also said some protesters had legitimate concerns over food shortages and blackouts, although he blamed U.S. sanctions tightened during President Donald Trump’s time in office for the country’s economic woes.
“It’s legitimate to feel dissatisfaction,” the party’s powerful first secretary said in the broadcast.
WMexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, saying he hoped a peaceful resolution could be reached “without the use of force, without confrontation and without violence”. “The Cubans must decide [the solution] because Cuba is a free, independent and sovereign nation – there must be no interventionism,” López Obrador added.
A spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry also cautioned against “outside interference” that sought to “encourage the destabilization” of the island.
With reporting by Miami Herald, The Guardian, Reuters, Al Jazeera