Despair and frustration have exploded into unrest. Demonstrators should be heard, not exploited

The crackdown is well under way. On Sunday, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in cities across the country, impelled by food shortages, high prices and other anti-government grievances. These were the biggest protests in decades. Over 140 activists, demonstrators and journalists are believed to have been detained or disappeared, and one man has died. A few hundred more protested on Monday, but – while internet shutdowns make it harder to follow events – the unrest appears to have ebbed for now. The discontent has not.

Though the speed and scale of the demonstrations took everyone by surprise, and owe much to the advent of social media, the pressure has long been building. Cuba is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since the “special period” of the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union, its patron, collapsed. The government’s long-term failings, including foot-dragging on reform, have been matched by the impact of the American embargo. Hopes aroused by Barack Obama’s restoration of relations and loosened restrictions were cruelly dashed when Donald Trump reclassified the country as a state sponsor of terrorism and imposed new sanctions barring travel to the country from the US and, crucially, remittances: a key source of income. Washington’s claim that Havana is failing to meet people’s most basic needs is undeniable. But the US has ensured this is the case. Mr Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, reportedly told diplomats that the aim of the tightened sanctions was to “starve” the island to bring down the regime.

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