What you need to know about the protests in Cuba

Amalia Dache studies the role of place in education.

And no place holds her focus like Cuba. An Afro Cuban American who still has family on the island, Dache has been closely following the protests that started July 11, but have roots dating back decades.

Amalia Dache sitting criss-cross applesauce on a sea wall in Cuba reading a book.
Amalia Dache during a research trip to Cuba. (Image: Courtesy of  Santiel Rodríguez Velázquez)

Dache traveled to Cuba in 2018 and 2019 to research the Afro Cuban experience, and the opportunities that existed—or were closed off from—the island nation’s significant Black population. Her findings challenged many of the Cuban government’s statements about access to education, health care, and jobs, while also detailing stories of repression and persecution.

Since the start of the protests, policymakers and journalists in the United States and around the world have sought out her expertise on the closed off country.

Here, Dache explains why Cubans are in the streets, what the internal blockade Cuba’s government imposes on its people entails, and what many Americans get wrong about life in Cuba since the revolution.

“This is a historic moment for Cuba and all of Latin America,” she says. “The wave of protests that started July 11 was sparked by shortages of food and COVID-19 vaccinations as the pandemic sweeps across the island.”

“But the momentum behind these protests has been building for years. Rappers and artists, notably the San Isidro Movement, have been calling for democratic reforms since 2018. If you listen to the song ‘Patria Y Vida’—meaning Homeland and Life—you are hearing the voice of people who are tired of a repressive regime, tired of having family members disappear, tired of not having access to the internet, and tired of not having many of the basic necessities of life.”

Cache explains that Afro Cuban youths are leading many of these protests. “While accurate information is hard to come by, it’s estimated that 70% of Cubans are of African descent. When Castro’s government came to power, it declared an end to racism. And since there was no racism, they also outlawed all Afro Cuban organizations and centers of the Afro Cuban community. It would have been as if the United States had outlawed the NAACP and Black churches after the Civil Rights Act passed. Black Lives Matter would not be allowed to exist in Cuba today.”

“Since then, we’ve seen the regime limit opportunities for Afro Cubans. In my research, I spoke to Afro Cuban families who lost their small businesses during the revolution and were never able to recover financially. I spoke to people whose access to education—something the regime brags about internationally—was cut off because they wouldn’t align with the communist party—the party that rules all Cuban civil society, all institutions, including systems of education.”

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