Cuba Responds to Protests: 3 Extra Pounds of Rice Rations, No Extra Freedom

A man weighs rice at a store in San Luis, Santiago de Cuba province, on June 20, 2017. Each Cuban home receives certain basic foods every month for a pay of only a tenth of their market value thanks to a ration book launched in 1963, when the state started …
YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

The Ministry of Interior Commerce in Cuba announced Wednesday that it would increase rice rations by an extra three pounds per person per month, an attempt to quell the eruption of anti-communist unrest that has persisted since July 11.

That day, thousands of Cubans nationwide — in nearly every city on the island — organized peaceful marches calling for the end of the communist Castro regime, which has used executions, torture, and imprisonment to stay in power since 1959. The scope of the protests attracted international attention and has triggered ongoing protests by Cubans in the diaspora in major capitals around the world, most prominently in Washington, D.C.

The protesters chanted slogans like “freedom” and anti-communist phrases, plainly stating opposition to the regime. The Communist Party of Cuba has attributed the protests to alleged illicit American intelligence activity, without providing any evidence for U.S. involvement, while international leftist groups sympathetic to the regime have claimed the protesters were objecting to an increasingly dire economic situation in the country that they, too, blamed on the United States. The administration of President Joe Biden adopted the false claim that the protesters were objecting to a deteriorating Chinese coronavirus situation.

Attempting to fuel the narrative that the protesters were demanding an improved economic situation, the Ministry of Interior Commerce (MINCIN) announced a giveaway of a paltry three extra pounds of rice per person every month from August to December. Minister Betsy Díaz Velázquez said at a press conference that the extra food rations were in part possible due to humanitarian aid from Russia and Nicaragua, allied leftist regimes.

Díaz explicitly connected the rations to the protests, stating the government sought “in this way to begin giving the population a level of satisfaction at a time in which the imperialism [the United States] is trying to create irritation and disgust among our people and has a high responsibility in what is happening.”

As a communist country, the Cuban Communist Country controls and distributes the nation’s food supply. Citizens receive ration cards that specify how much food each individual can purchase; it is illegal for individuals to independently decide how much food they need for their homes.

Díaz also noted that families would have access to their August food rations early, according to the official newspaper of the Communist Party, Granma. The newspaper added that Díaz announced that it had received extra “prime materials, like wheat flour, whose destination will be, fundamentally, towards local production industries to increase the output of bread and crackers.”

The announcement did not specify any provisions of extra protein other than powdered milk for senior citizens and beans for four different provinces.

The independent outlet Cubanet noted Wednesday that the general Cuban population met the announcement with outrage, noting it did nothing to address the core demand of the protesters that the communist regime leaves power.

“Every day they remind me more of Orwell’s 1984 with this increase by three pounds of the rice [ration] as if that represented the liberty and human rights that the people want, useless bunch of people,” one social media user highlighted by Cubanet lamented.

Díaz, the minister of interior commerce, has been one of the least popular members of the Communist Party leadership for years. Díaz outraged the general population in 2019 in an interview on state television attempting to address shortages created by poor management of food industries by the Party, particularly a shortage of flour that resulted from the government failing to repair aging wheat mills. The government blamed then-President Donald Trump for the shortages, without explaining what role he would have had in the mechanical failures, and cut rations for the majority of citizens.

Díaz said on national television that, in addition to the United States, Cuban citizens themselves were responsible for shortages due to hoarding, adding most Cubans supporting receiving less food through the ration system.

“There are a variety of different opinions, most consider these [rations] good and even insist on us continuing to ration products,” she alleged, prompting widespread indignation.

The Castro regime has not supplemented its meager increase in rice rations with any reduction in human rights violations or restoration of basic freedoms for the Cuban people at press time. Following the protests, the regime enacted mass arrests and ordered state security officials to conduct violent door-to-door raids against suspected protesters. Those arrested, human rights groups have alleged, are being subjected to summary judgment trials with no significant due process safeguards. Police have denied the accused in many cases knowledge of what crime they are facing a trial for and access to an attorney. Those sentenced have said they have faced “summary trials” alongside as many as 30 other people and sentenced simultaneously.

Those outside of prison have accused police of openly threatening them, including children erroneously arrested despite playing no role in the protests.

Gabriela Zequeira Hernández, a 17-year-old sentenced to eight months of house arrest for having witnessed protests she did not participate in, told Cubanet this week — shortly after her release from one of Cuba’s most notorious prisons — that police officers threatened to trap her in a room with two large men who would rape her. She was also subject to a strip search and forced to digitally penetrate herself while squatting in front of guards, allegedly to ensure she was not hiding a weapon.

The parents of Yoel Misael Fuentes García, a 16-year-old, told independent outlets last week that police visited the boy in the hospital to threaten him after police shot him on July 11. Fuentes was also not participating in the protests, merely peeking out of his home out of curiosity after hearing the tumult of the crowd.

“We, the relatives, had to see Yoelito through a glass in the hospital. Meanwhile, a police officer went directly to his bed to interrogate and coerce him,” his stepfather told Diario de Cuba. “He told him that they could take him to 100 y Aldabó.”

100 y Aldabó is one of Cuba’s most violent political prisoners and where Zequeira experienced her sexual assault and threats.

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