_
_
_
_

Díaz-Canel: Cuba protests ‘are not demands for a break with the Revolution’

In an interview with journalist Ignacio Ramonet that generated controversy on the island, the Cuban president referred to the blackouts, the economic crisis and inflation, and political demonstrations

Cuba's former President Raul Castro
Cuba's former president Raúl Castro speaks to President Miguel Díaz-Canel during the International Workers' Day celebration in Havana, Cuba, May 1, 2024.Alexandre Meneghini (Reuters)

After sitting down for One Hundred Hours with Fidel and recounting it in a book that revealed his undeniable affinity with the late Cuban leader, the French-Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet turned on his microphone for almost two hours in front of the current Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, in a controversial interview in which they addressed the current crisis gripping the island — for some the most serious in the country since the triumph of the Revolution. Although Díaz-Canel discussed diverse topics including Cuba’s relationship with Russia, artificial intelligence, the computerization of the country, the political situation in Latin America, vaccines against Covid-19 or the U.S. embargo as the “principal reason” for Cuba’s stagnation, most of the dialogue was devoted to explaining or justifying why the country has fallen into such an economic abyss, which has left it with crippling food and fuel shortages, prompting Cubans to take to the streets in unprecedented numbers.

On May 11, Ramonet and Díaz-Canel shook hands at the Plaza de la Revolución and went to hold their interview in a formal room. In subsequent statements published in Telesur, the journalist, who said he already knew the president from when he held minor political posts, assured that Díaz-Canel answered his questions “with great honesty, clarity and intelligence.” But those same answers have caused no little indignation among Cubans on social networks. Many of the comments note that Ramonet has once again served as a spokesman for the Havana regime at a time when the deterioration of the country and the government’s inability to pull it out of the doldrums is evident.

One of the issues on the table was the blackouts, which leave Cubans in the dark for up to 20 hours a day, and which are a cause of despair in the sweltering summer heat. Díaz-Canel, who acknowledged that the lack of electricity “causes discomfort, causes misunderstandings, and makes the lives of Cubans harder,” explained that the island’s power grid is “unstable” and that on this occasion it was not so much the lack of fuel that was affecting it as “technological problems”. Amid the current crisis, Cubans receive weekly updates from the state electricity company (UNE) announcing the offline status of one of the national electricity system’s plants due to repairs or maintenance. As an alternative, Díaz-Canel indicated that his government was betting on “renewable energy sources, both wind and photovoltaic, biogas, a whole group of concepts; but, above all, photovoltaic.”

Ramonet and Díaz-Canel spent much of the meeting talking about economic issues, among which the president mentioned inflation — one of the big issues in Cuba today — which last year reached 30% and has hit the average family’s access to basic necessities. “We do not have the availability of foreign currency to operate a legal state exchange market efficiently and, therefore, an illegal market is created for us,” he said.

In 2021, during a crisis aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, the government turned to an expansion of the private sector as a way to aerate the economy. The so-called Mipymes — stores or businesses to which many Cubans do not have access — began to flourish, replacing the absence of products in state markets. Regarding the development of these micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, Díaz-Canel assured that it is a sector that “will continue to expand,” but he made it clear that “the greatest weight of the economy is in the state sector” and that the Cuban economy “is not based on a pure market economy.”

In an attempt to talk about the events of July 2021 and March 2024 — when Cubans staged the most significant mass protests in recent years demanding “food, electricity and freedom” — Ramonet gave space for Díaz-Canel to provide his version of the demonstrations and the subsequent government repression against the participants, something the Cuban leader did not hesitate to deny. According to Díaz-Canel, the protests “are not demands for a break with the Revolution” and neither have they been met with a “repressive response,” despite the more than 1,000 arrests they produced with sentences of up to 20 years of imprisonment handed down, and the dozens of testimonies of police repression against the demonstrators. “Those opinions that someone who is not with the Revolution may hold are not repressed”, he insisted. At the same time, he said that those arrested were those who committed acts of vandalism and attacks against state property, or who disturbed public order. “That does carry a response that is not due to ideology; it is a judicial response.”

The interview, which ended with laughter and words of thanks between interviewee and interviewer, has led to criticism among Cubans. Many X users responded directly to Ramonet in their posts: “What interview are you talking about, the circus they starred in?” “It’s a shame for real journalists who do serious and respectable work.” “You let yourself be fooled by Fidel Castro and you let yourself be fooled by this guy,” read some of the comments. Ramonet, for his part, appears to have disregarded the response. The journalist also took a tour of a Cuban agricultural enterprise, which he described as “a marvel,” full of fertile land and animals. “An agricultural, efficient and prosperous socialism,” he said, when most Cubans speak of precisely the opposite and are engaged in the largest migratory exodus of all time to escape the crisis.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
_
_