But some Cuban activists in the United States, including those who oppose the embargo, were quick to challenge that narrative.
“There’s no food, there’s no medicine, there’s nothing, and this isn’t a product of the American embargo, which I do not support,” said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Movimiento Democracia advocacy group in Miami. He noted that the embargo does allow Cuba to buy food from the United States, though restrictions on financing present significant barriers to the amount.
Cuba’s fragile economy has been battered by American sanctions, but also by financial mismanagement and a severe drop in tourism because of the pandemic, depriving it of a vital source of the foreign currency that it depends on for a wide array of the island’s needs. The government has also had to contend with the economic collapse of its closest regional ally, Venezuela.
“Do you know what it’s like not to be able to buy my child food from the store?” said Odalis, a 43-year-old homemaker in Havana, who asked that her last name be withheld for fear of reprisals by the government. “People are fed up with the abuse of power. We are desperate.”
In the first five months of this year, the number of international travelers to Cuba fell nearly 90 percent compared with the same period in 2020, according to the Cuban national statistics agency. The price of goods has also soared, with inflation skyrocketing some 500 percent and still increasing, according to Pavel Vidal Alejandro, a former Cuban central bank economist who is now an economics professor at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Colombia.
“The situation is very, very serious,” said Mr. Vidal, noting that official numbers for inflation are not available. “High inflation is something that always causes a lot of social unrest.”
Cuba suffered excruciating hardships after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the island’s powerful backer, ultimately forcing it to open up its economy to tourists and, ever so slowly, to some private business and property ownership.