Crisis-hit Cuba marks 5th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s death

Havana, Nov 25 (EFE).- Cuba’s government on Thursday honored revolutionary leader and former President Fidel Castro (1926-2016) on the fifth anniversary of his death, a tribute that comes at the end of a challenging year marked by the pandemic, an economic crisis and pro-democracy protests.

The homage kicked off on Wednesday with a ceremony at the University of Havana that was attended by a group of 100 mostly young people, and a portion of the Communist Party leadership, and was held to commemorate Castro’s legacy.

But the tributes come as a time of political polarization, with young Cubans taking to social media on a daily basis to publicly express their displeasure with the current political-economic system.

They also come just months after thousands of Cubans took to the streets on July 11 to take part in extremely rare anti-government protests.

Cuban authorities said the United States was behind those demonstrations, while activists and dissidents said they were protesting the scarcity of basic products, high prices and a lack of political rights.

Similar protests had been planned for Nov. 15 but were thwarted by the government, which deployed a heavy police contingent to the largest cities, detained opposition leaders and prevented activists and independent journalists from leaving their homes.

In accusing the US of promoting regime change and of actively seeking to destabilize the Communist-ruled island, current Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel is following the lead of his predecessors, Fidel and his younger brother Raul Castro, who between 1959 and 2018 had promoted the struggle against “Yankee imperialism.”

US President Joe Biden’s State Department, for its part, has denied any links to the protests and urged Havana to see them “not as an attack, but as an opportunity to listen to the Cuban people.”

Cuba carried out ambitious, long-postponed economic reforms at the start of this year, including unifying the Cuban peso and dollar-linked “convertible peso” as one currency, thereby bringing an end to a decades-old dual currency system.

Diaz-Canel’s government has acknowledged that the so-called “monetary ordering” has caused prices to soar by 60 percent at retail outlets and skyrocket by 6,900 percent in the informal market.

The currency overhaul also has led to the concentration of basic products in stores where only foreign currency is accepted, even though most Cuban citizens receive their salary in Cuban pesos.

“People are experiencing prices that are seven, 10 times higher,” Cuban lawmaker Marino Murillo acknowledged in a recent session of the unicameral parliament.

Besides his anti-imperialist legacy and the radical socio-economic shift he brought about in Cuba, Castro also is remembered for developing a biotechnology industry on the island that positioned it to respond to the challenges of the coronavirus.

Cuban entities such as the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and the Finlay Vaccine Institute developed Latin America’s first Covid-19 vaccines: Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus.

Cuba has already vaccinated 80 percent of its 11.2 million inhabitants, according to the Public Health Ministry, and also has sent millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses to allied countries such as Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Vietnam.

That successful vaccine rollout has allowed the country to resume various services, as well as reopen its borders and schools 10 days ago.

The country experienced its worst wave of the pandemic in mid-2021, with more than 1,000 daily cases and an elevated death toll. EFE

NOTE TO SUBSCRIBERS: Decisions made by the Cuban authorities in recent months have severely reduced staff at Efe’s bureau in Havana, where only two journalists are currently able to carry out their work. Efe hopes to recover its news-reporting capacity on the island in the coming days.


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