The chaos left in Cuba by Hurricane Ian and the collapse of the Cuban communist system, added to problems in the water supply and telecommunications, multiplied discontent after years of economic crisis on the island.
Since last Friday night, residents of different neighborhoods of Havana began to take to the streets to protest the continuous power cuts that already exceed 72 continuous hours in various locations on the island. Added to the lack of electricity, the dictatorship of Miguel Díaz Canel increased censorship and restricted Internet access to prevent the protests from spreading.
Since yesterday there is no internet on the island. The cut occurred at night, when the spontaneous protests throughout the country, but mainly in Havana, had already gone viral. Cornered, the dictator Miguel Díaz Canel followed the authoritarian manual and restricted access to the network to prevent the protests from spreading. The Netblocks monitoring initiative reported that after 8:00 p.m., real-time network data showed that the Internet connection suffered an abrupt cut on the island.
Shouting “Libertad, Libertad” the Cubans blocked some streets and municipalities in Havana to demand that Internet service and electricity be restored and pushed back the political police of the regime.
The protests had begun in La Palma and in Calzada de Bejucal, in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, and then Puentes Grandes, in Playa, where they have not had electricity for 72 hours, reported the newspaper 14 y 1/2.
Viva Cuba Libre Carajooo pic.twitter.com/9Uf3KerTUH— Jose Alberto 🇨🇺🇺🇸🇮🇱 🐍🐍 (@patriotacuban) October 1, 2022
Several videos circulating on social networks show a crowd in Arroyo Naranjo with pots and pans and loudly demanding that the regime resolve the energy crisis facing the country. “They blocked the street so they don’t pass,” says a woman who records the protest. “Down with the dictatorship, enough already!” she shouts, as she joins the protesters. Along with the crowd there are several policemen without daring to intervene, described the aforementioned independent media.
Four days after the passage of category three hurricane Ian, which devastated the western end of the island and left three dead and extensive material damage, the country has barely recovered from the total blackout it suffered on Tuesday.
Most of the 11.1 million inhabitants do not have electricity – at most a few hours a day -, most shops and gas stations remain closed and the pumping of running water has stopped.
The state-owned Electric Union (UNE) announced that it managed to unify the network, divided after the energy “zero generation” event on Tuesday, but recognized difficulties beyond the lines: 7 of the 14 plants in the country are stopped, including the two greater.
The protests follow those that took place in Camagüey (east), Batabanó (west) and in humble neighborhoods of Havana such as El Cerro, Arroyo Naranjo and San Miguel del Padrón.
Specialized platforms such as Netblocks, Internet Outage and Cloudflare Radar agreed, along with several activists, in pointing out that the internet shutdown is an attempt to silence the protests and prevent their spread, since their live broadcast on networks is normal. The Cuban dictatorship did not explain the incident and the official media did not pick it up.
The scenario of total censorship caused more and more Cubans to look with admiration at the example of Ukraine, where a solution was found to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian wishes to prevent communication to the world of what was really happening on the ground – the brutalities of its soldiers in every corner of the occupied territories – and the dissemination of alerts to keep the population informed of the dangers of the offensive.
The solution came from the hand of Elon Musk’s satellites. The tycoon made his Starlink network available to the Ukrainians. He kept them and keeps them connected, and also guarantees the use of drones in defense of the country.
In Ukraine, bombed by the powerful Russian army, there is internet and it works very well. Putin wanted to cut the service but could not, so Cubans see the example of Musk and Ukraine as a sign of hope.
On September 19, Musk himself hinted at the possibility of helping the oppressed around the world. He announced that his company will request an exemption from sanctions against Iran to provide satellite broadband service in the Persian country. After the announcement, he was asked if Cuba could be included in the petition and the answer was short but forceful: he answered “ok”. If the Starlik network reaches Cuban cell phones, it will spread completely and the Cuban dictatorship will suffer one of the biggest blows since the fall of the Soviet Union.
It’s possible? Yes. According to Musk himself, version 2.0 of Starlink (Starlink V2) that is under development will allow users to connect to the satellite network directly from their phones, a fact that would offer navigation coverage to users in those areas where it does not reach the mobile phone network.
Since July 11, 2021, when Cubans came out throughout the country to protest massively and peacefully against the dictatorship, expressions of rejection of the regime have occurred almost daily. But the regime’s power to shut down internet access slows the spread of resistance.
Cuba has been going through a serious crisis for two years due to the combination of the pandemic and errors in economic and monetary policy. In this time, food and medicine shortages have become chronic, queues have multiplied, the value of the peso has sunk – from 24 to a dollar to almost 200 in the informal market – and inflation has skyrocketed.
Power outages have become frequent. Between July and September there were only two days without power cuts at some point in the country. In certain localities they reach twelve consecutive hours a day.
The Cuban energy system was in crisis before Ian. Seven of the eight terrestrial thermoelectric plants (there are another six floating ones leased) are over 40 years old, when their estimated life is 30. The plants and the network also suffer from a prolonged investment and maintenance deficit.
The protests have grown parallel to the blackouts. In the last three months, several dozen have been registered, also Santiago de Cuba (east) and Havana, according to a count by the independent media Inventario project. Among them, the two days of demonstrations in Nuevitas (east) stood out.