5 things to know about crisis in Cuba

Island nation 90 miles from US has been under communist rule for 62 years
Cubans protest government, July 11, 2021, in Havana, Cuba
Posted at 3:53 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 16:22:03-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Cubans are calling for freedom and the resignation of current President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

People in Cuba and South Florida alike have organized demonstrations for the country's freedom.

The island has been under a communist regime for 62 years. The protests happening on the island are unprecedented in Cuban history.

Here are five things to know about Cuba and what's happening on the island.

Food Shortages

The Cuban government imports most of the food consumed on the island.

Every year, the government makes a plan on how they will ration this food. Rations in place are supposed to provide a household with enough food for a month. Many protesters on the island are expressing their frustrations because of not having enough to eat.

Police scuffle with anti-government demonstrator in Havana, Cuba, July 11, 2021
Police scuffle and detain an anti-government demonstrator during a protest Sunday, July 11, 2021, in Havana, Cuba. Hundreds of demonstrators went out to the streets in several cities in Cuba to protest against ongoing food shortages and high prices of food amid the new coronavirus crisis.

These shortages have been issues since the fall of the USSR, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse.

Dollar Stores Requiring U.S. Currency

After a long period of food and supply shortages, dollar stores started appearing. These stores are stocked with supplies such as meat, soap, pasta and other items.

But these supplies can only be purchased using U.S. currency. The average Cuban citizen does not have access to American money and, therefore, cannot buy these supplies.

Police detain anti-government protester in Havana, Cuba, July 11, 2021
Police detain an anti-government demonstrator during a Sunday, July 11, 2021, protest in Havana, Cuba.

These stores are seen as an attempt for the Cuban government to acquire any kind of foreign currency.

Previously, Cubans who had family and friends abroad had the option of getting money sent to them via Western Union. The Cuban government would then take 10% of the money.

"Socialism and Marxism has done (to) Cuba what it has done everywhere in the world that it's been tried -- it has failed," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a speech delivered on the House floor Monday.

No Access to Internet

Part of the embargo on Cuba allows for the access to devices that aide in the communication of the Cuban people. Cubans have gained access to the internet and cellphones as a result. The recent protests have caused the government to deny the public access to the internet.

Rubio, a Cuban American, has called on the U.S. government to aid the Cuban people with internet access.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also joined Rubio in the fight to restore Cuba's internet access. The lack of internet has made it difficult for Cubans living abroad to contact their loved ones who remain in the country.

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, July 13, 2021
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to journalists after a roundtable discussion on Cuba, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami.

In his same speech Monday, Rubio called for the U.S. to help give Cuba access to high-speed internet in the same way the U.S. helped Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

"The technology exists to do that with a satellite-based system," Rubio said. "We should put the best minds to work on getting that done, because if the Cuban people have free and unfettered access to the internet ... they can communicate with each other and they can receive information and communicate with the world."

Castro Regime and Cuban Emigration

The Castro regime gained power in Cuba after the 26th of July movement, a significant piece of the Cuban revolution.

Fidel Castro speaks to supporters, Jan. 8, 1959, in Cuba
Fidel Castro speaks to supporters at the Batista military base "Columbia," now known as Ciudad Libertad, Jan. 8, 1959, in Cuba. The Cuban revolution triumphed on Jan. 1, 1959, after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country and Castro and his band of rebels descended from the island's eastern mountains, where they waged a guerrilla war against government troops. The U.S. soon recognized the new government, but two years later on Jan. 3, 1961, broke relations with Cuba and closed its embassy.

This was a revolutionary movement conducted by Fidel Castro to overthrow the existing government under Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship.

After the rise of communism, there have been many mass emigrations of the Cuban people.

The most notable movements of people leaving Cuba have been Operation Peter Pan and the Mariel boatlift.

U.S. Marine helps child off refugee boat during 1980 Mariel boatlift in Key West
A U.S. Marine helps a young Cuban child off one of the refugee boats that have been pouring into Key West for weeks, May 10, 1980.

During Operation Peter Pan, 14,000 Cuban children immigrated to the U.S. with no adult supervision from 1960 to 1962.

In 1980, the Cuban government allowed citizens who wished to leave the country to do so. As many as 125,000 Cubans left Mariel Harbor for the U.S. between April and October 1980. This event is known as the Mariel boatlift.

Cuban American Response

While Cubans on the island are fighting for freedom, Cuban Americans are rallying for awareness and support for those on the island.

Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo hugs demonstrator in Little Havana, July 14, 2021
Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo hugs a demonstrator, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood as people rallied in support of anti-government protests in Cuba.

Cubans have a long history of fleeing the island. Expressing any dissatisfaction with the regime can turn a person into a political prisoner.

The current protests are historic because it is the first time since the revolution that Cubans have openly expressed the struggles they face at the hands of their government.