2021 was a historic year across the world’s democratic institutions, and not for the best reasons. There were at least five successful coups in 2021 alone (more than in all five previous years combined), the number of jailed journalists reached a record high for the sixth year in a row, and the number of countries moving towards democracy is lower than the number of countries moving in an authoritarian direction exceeds for the fifth year in a row. A significant portion of this of these countries’ democratic woes can be attributed to an alleged poor—and in some cases, abusive—response to the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the world.
Cuba, which has been arguably in economic pain for a while now, suffered tremendously in 2020 as their GDP contracted by almost 11%. A plethora of factors—from reduced tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced subsided fuel from Venezuela—can be attributed to its crisis. Some also claim the economic contraction was a product directly caused by United States sanctions on the island nation. While the American embargo on Cuba has economically harmed the nation, the country’s own inability to adapt their economy from their original Soviet-style centrally planned economy is the root cause—as affirmed by former Cuban central bank economist Prof. Pavel Vidal. Even Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng remarked in a visit to Havana in 2018 that Cuba should instead aim to “develop a market economy in an adequate and correct way.”
On July 11, 2021, the Cuban people took to the streets to protest the government’s authoritarianist nature, the shortage of food and medicine, and for their civil liberties. Support rallies rose around the world, especially in Florida, which boasts the highest concentration of Cuban-Americans in the United States (1.53 million in 2017). The Cuban government cracked down on protesters almost immediately, arresting nearly 400 under the accusation of “public disorder” and then publishing laws in just over a month that criminalized “defamation against the country’s prestige” to reduce the freedom of expression over Internet and social media.
It is important to note that not every Cuban supported these protests. A few days after the initial outburst, the Partido Comunista de Cuba (English: Communist Party of Cuba) organized their own official state rally nationwide to denounce the U.S. trade embargo and reaffirm their support for Cuba’s original revolution under Fidel. These protests were held nationwide and organized by neighborhood block committees, known as the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (English: Committees for the Defense of the Revolution). Official tallies on how many castristas (English: Castroists) participated in these counter-protests in unknown. However, it does not override the fact that the Cuban government gravely needs economic reform. While the American embargos are hurting Cuba, it is not the only source of their economic woes.
The Cuban people should be allowed to congregate and stand for what they believe in, whether it is for or against the government. Countries and organizations around the world voiced their support for the Cuban people, like the European Union’s Foreign Relations Chief Josep Borrell remarking that “the Cuban people have a right to express their opinion” and that “the [Cuban] government [should] allow peaceful demonstrations and to listen to the voice of discontent from demonstrators.” However, across the world, dictators and brutal leaders (namely those of North Korea, Russia, and Iran) voiced their support and solidarity to the Cuban government. People around the world deserve the right to protest and assemble for what they believe with. Democracies can only thrive in a society where can make their voices heard to their leaders and advocate for meaningful change, like Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel lifting the custom fees on food and medicine brought into the island nation. Professor Dahl—in his outline of requirements for democracy among a large number of people—highlights the importance of the freedom of expression and alternative sources of information . The Cuban government crackdown on these protestors clearly demonstrate the government’s unwillingness to transition to a true democracy, and the United States and the Western world should not support this aristocracy. If not, these exists the possibility of Cuba fully embracing their original castrista method of wiping out all traces of dissent . Instead, like the Cuban people, they should rally behind the cries of “Patria y vida” (English: “homeland and life”) and leave the communist leader Fidel Castro’s rallying cry of “patria o muerte” (English: “homeland or death”) in the past. Dahl, Robert Alan. “Democratization and Public Opposition.” Essay. In Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. Yale Univ. Press, 1971.
 Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. Penguin Books, 2019.