With one dead and over 100 protestors arrested or missing, Cuba is facing an uprising that it has not seen in years. Earlier this week, in a gripping speech on the Senate floor, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) debunked the oft-repeated claim that US sanctions are fueling the unrest, and that lifting the sanctions is the answer: The embargo, the first thing they blame, it’s the embargo.
‘The embargo is causing all this.’ Why aren’t fishermen and farmers in Cuba allowed to fish or grow things and sell to people? It’s not the embargo that keeps them from doing that. It’s the regime. Why can’t Cubans own a small business? Why can’t a Cuban do in Cuba what they can do in Miami, what they can do in Washington, what they do in countries all over the world? They can’t do it in Cuba. They can’t open a small business. That’s not the embargo that keeps them from doing it. In fact, U.S. law allows us to trade and do commerce with small businesses that are independently owned by Cubans.
Senator Rubio then went on to argue that despite President Obama’s opening of the embargo, trade was ultimately unsuccessful in improving living conditions for Cubans as the Cuban regime tightly controls the distribution of foreign capital, tourism, food, and humanitarian aid.
But many on the left continue to believe that Cuba’s problems stem from the U.S. embargo.
For example, Bernie Sanders tweeted that “It’s also long past time to end the unilateral U.S. embargo on Cuba, which has only hurt, not helped, the Cuban people.” This week, House Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) recently called on the Biden administration to lift sanctions on Cuba, and this follows a letter sent by 80 House Democrats calling on the Biden administration to do the same back in March. Back in September 2020, then presidential candidate Joe Biden seemed to support lifting of sanctions, stating “I’d try to reverse the failed Trump policies that inflicted harm on Cubans and their families.”
Another source of such disinformation regarding sanctions is of course Chinese state-run media. Newspapers like XinhuaNet, Global Times, and China Daily are claiming that the recent uprising in Cuba is not only the result of the United States embargo, but also a consequence of a broader US attempt to subvert Cuba. Chinese media is using such propaganda to whitewash the Cuban regime’s role in causing strife to the Cuban people, while falsely incriminating the United States.
Claim 1: Cuba’s Unrest Stems from the US Embargo, so the US Should Lift the Embargo
Chinese state-run media cites several leftist political figures, both in Cuba and abroad, to parrot the claim that the US is spreading strife in Cuba through its embargo. A Global Times article cited Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian as calling for the US to lift its blockade against Cuba, as “just like Cuba said, the US blockade was the root cause of Cuba’s problems, including medicine shortage.” The same article also cited Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez stating that a major contributing factor to the recent uprising in Cuba is the “the shortage of health supplies and food due to the intensification of the economic, commercial and financial blockade [by] the US.” Another Global Times article cited Cuban President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel as claiming that the the unrest in Cuba is due to the US’ “politics of economic asphyxiation.” A China Daily article stated that Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez called on the United States to lift its sanctions on Cuba, while the Global Times stated that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez called for the same.
Chinese state-run media sources further support the claims of these politicians. Global Times stated that:
The demonstrations were mainly triggered by people’s discontent over Cuba’s economic hardships and shortages of basic supplies. These are mainly a result of the US’ decades-long sanctions against Cuba. Despite dialogue during the Obama era, the Trump administration tightened sanctions on Cuba, further crippling their economy…The US bears a large proportion of responsibility for Cubans’ hardships.
Another Global Times article stressed the integral role of US sanctions on maintaining Cuban suffering:
It is totally immoral for the US to continue to maintain the sanctions and to impose a high-intensity blockade on Cuba. It is especially criminal to maintain the embargo against the backdrop of the current serious escalation of the epidemic situation in Cuba.
Claim 2: Cuba Protests are a Product of US Subversion
Chinese state-run media also blames US subversion as a cause for the Cuban unrest. Of course, Chinese media quote Cuban officials to substantiate this claim. Cuban President Diaz-Canel stated that the US is using Cuba’s COVID-19 outbreak to “stoke civil unrest,” as cited by XinhuaNet. President Diaz-Canel stated that “the protests were a form of ‘systemic provocation’ by dissidents doing the bidding of Washington,” according to Global Times.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez stated the protests were a result of “US-financed mercenaries,” according to another Global Times article. That same article also cites the Cuban Embassy in China as stating that the protests are “US’ unconventional war scheme against Cuba” seeking “to provoke the long-awaited ‘regime change,’” and that the protests were “subversive actions…encouraged and manipulated in the social networks controlled from the US, under the label ‘SOS Cuba,’ and the ‘Florida state government has granted funds to the company that created the label, which is based in Miami.’” The article also cited Cuban Ambassador to China Carlos Miguel Pereira as stating in May that the US uses social media to “subvert Cuba and destabilize Cuba.”
Chinese state-run media further claim that the US is driving these protests to privatize and thus revolutionize Cuba. A third Global Times article stated that “[b]y ‘guiding’ Cuba’s economic reforms, the US has wanted to create a large-scale private sector or self-employed workforce in Cuba, turn them into forces that will help subvert the governance of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and launch a ‘color revolution’ in Cuba…” Another Global Times article states that historically, “the US has made the greatest efforts to carry out political infiltration activities in Cuba.”
Chinese state-run media also assert that the sanctions themselves are a tool used for the US in its subversion campaign. According to a previously referenced Global Times article, “[a]part from Cuba, the US has also imposed sanctions on other socialist countries, such as China and North Korea, in a bid to prove the outside world that ‘socialism doesn’t work.’” The article also states that the “purpose” of the US sanctions “is to restrict Cuba’s development.”
Chinese state-run media is engaging in a propaganda campaign to cast the United States as a malevolent perpetrator of the recent Cuban uprising. Like its propaganda campaigns fighting the “lab leak” theory, supporting China’s exportation of COVID-19 vaccine, or denying human rights violations against the Uyghurs, China is using state-run media to improve its reputation abroad and malign the US.
You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic