Ever since the revolution, the relation between Cuba and the US was tenuous at best. Fidel Castro had overthrown Fulgencio Batista, a brutal dictator and a staunch ally of the US. In fact, the US held enormous influence over this island nation.
But all of that changed after the revolution. Fidel not only overthrew an American ally, he also confiscated properties and businesses owned by Americans and redistributed them to Cubans.
It was also seen as a security threat to the US, a surrogate for the Soviet Union that had to be destroyed without mercy. To accomplish that, the US had maintained a blockade of this island from the days of John F. Kennedy. It also imposes secondary sanctions on any foreign companies or countries that trades with Cuba.
But it was no longer a security threat to the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead, it was presented as an example of the failure inherent in the socialist model. The media was the primary narrator of this story.
According to a research conducted by Silvo Lenart and Harry Targ, typical stories on Cuba focused mainly on the country's socio-economic hardships and political disillusionment on the part of the Cuban citizens since 1985.
Fidel Castro was framed as just another autocrat. In 2006, when the eldest Castro brother was on his deathbed, the Washington Post labelled him as "deteriorated despot". They also repeatedly warned that Cuba was unstable and a grievous power struggle would occur once Fidel had passed. But now we know nothing of that sort actually happened.
The same narrative was seen after Fidel's death. Dr Denise Baden who conducted multiple research in Cuba was interviewed by the BBC following the demise of the revolutionary leader.
When she was asked if Castro ruled with an iron fist, Baden challenged the traditional narrative by saying, "Well, that's something that everyone is fond of saying. But when I talk to the people who live in Cuba, and the Cubans who've come to live in the UK, that's not the story that I get. The feeling that comes through is of Fidel Castro almost as a father figure".
When asked about whether the government was criticised by the populace, Baden said, "Oh yes. I had the head of a topical newspaper who was quite critical of the government in some ways. Not all ways, but some ways".
The academic then drove the point home by saying, "What I am disputing is that Fidel Castro of Cuba was any worse than any other country. I think if you expose America to the same lens, then you'd have a stack of crimes that would overshadow what Fidel Castro has done".
But the current protest has broken new grounds on the propaganda front. At the centre of this attempt is the #SOSCuba movement. A very similar hashtag was used in 2018 when the socialist Sandinista government faced protests in Nicaragua. Under this hashtag, photos of Egyptian, Venezuelan, Argentinian or even US protests are being propagated as photos of Cuban protests.
Even when Cuban photos are being used, they are being taken out of context, like a three-year-old photo of May Day celebration is being used as evidence of enormous unrest in the island nation. Even though Facebook and Twitter have put enormous effort into removing fake news from their platforms in recent years, they have not removed these posts.
This is not a new phenomenon. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 68,000 bot accounts were created to spread fake news and far-right propaganda to support the US-backed coup in Bolivia which overthrew another socialist government in 2019.
At the heart of this was the PR firm CLS Strategies which employs former US government officials and White House press staff. The firm signed a contract to represent Bolivia's far-right junta and provide "strategic communications counsel" in the lead-up to that country's ostensible election. It has also signed contracts with the far-right parties in Venezuela and Mexico.
This campaign of misinformation is already creating crucial impacts. Before this series of protests, leftists in the US usually opposed the imposing of new sanctions on Cuba. But the Biden administration has imposed a fresh set of sanctions without any opposition.
A consensus has been created among US citizens that Cubans desperately need US help. To please their fan bases, celebrities like Pitbull and Camila Cabello have endorsed the movement, giving it more crucial momentum. In fact, some of the protesters have already begun their journey to Cuba to fight the communist government.
According to the BBC, the botched handling of the pandemic was one of the primary reasons behind the protests. That does not mean the Cuban government is incompetent. In fact, Cuba had one of the lowest infection rates in Latin America throughout 2020. The infection rate has increased only recently.
The country also developed five vaccines for Covid-19 independently but they cannot administer the doses at a rapid rate as they cannot trade with Western companies and their traditional allies do not produce syringes.
The socialised healthcare and education of Cuba enabled them to supply necessary doctors to even US allies like Italy. Their medical programmes have trained thousands of doctors worldwide, even in the US. But according to the Washington Post, it is only to "buy the loyalty of the citizens".
A lack of food was another reason behind the current unrest enveloping the country. This is consistent with the traditional media portrayal of Cuba as a terribly impoverished and starving nation.
However, according to the most recent Global Hunger Index, Cuba received a score of less than five, indicating that less than 10% of the island's population suffers from hunger. They were able to achieve that despite being largely isolated from international trade for six decades. For reference, India scored 27.8 on the GHI.
This tiny island also holds great prestige in international politics. In March of this year, Cuba created an organisation called the Group of Friends in Defence of the Charter of the United Nations to promote multilateralism along with Bolivia, China, Iran, Palestine, Russia, and Venezuela.
Just a month ago, 184 countries voted in favour of lifting the US embargoes on Cuba in the UN General Assembly. Only two countries opposed the motion: Israel and the US itself. As a result, curbing the influence of Cuba by delegitimising its government may be a path worth taking for the US.
Framing Cuba as an enemy is also beneficial for courting the exiled Cuban community in the US. Take the example of Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida who is now calling for air strikes against Cuba. Rubio became popular by telling the story of how his parents fled from Cuba's brutal communist regime. But in actuality, Rubio's parents came to the US two years before Castro took power.
The protests in Cuba might have stemmed from the genuine discontent of its populace due to a lack of food and medication. But almost all countries suffer from temporary upheavals, especially during a pandemic.
Cuban people have the right to solve their own problems without facing imperialist aggression. The US has already tried to invade the nation once and tried to kill its former leader many times. The current propaganda campaign will enable them to commit similar acts without consequence.
Readus Salehen Jawad is an undergraduate student at the Department of Economics, University of Dhaka.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.