The protests started in the community of San Antonio de Los Baños before quickly spreading all over the island, including in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, its two biggest cities.
First Large Protest in Decades
Cuba saw a rare event on Sunday when thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across the country chanting, “we want freedom!” and “we are no longer afraid!”
The protests are the first large-scale demonstrations in about 30 years and have been fueled by a variety of factors, including lack of political and personal freedoms, anger over the island’s worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the recent collapse of the island’s once-vaunted healthcare system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The protests gained steam as videos posted to social media made their rounds, but within a few hours, the government shut off the internet to stop the spread of footage and stymie the movement. President Miguel Diaz-Canel appeared on national television Sunday to let the nation know that the army was authorized to stop the protests, warning that “the order to fight has been given.”
He also asked that other Cubans confront the protesters, calling for “all the revolutionaries in the country, all the communists, to take to the streets and go to the places where these provocations are going to take place.”
To date, at least one person has died because of the protests in Cuba and many others have been injured, including journalists from outlets such as the Associated Press.
The demonstrations have caused political ripples outside of the islands, including nearby in the United States. One of the first official responses came from State Department official Julie Chung, who tweeted, “Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages.”
“We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need,” Chung added.
Media outlets and Twitter itself have echoed the sentiments that the protests are caused by COVID-19 and associated shortages; however, that characterization has received strong pushback from many. Ron Coleman, a prominent conservative lawyer, mocked the sentiment and tweeted, “I’ll never forget those protests against the German Measles,” while posting an image of protesters taking down the Berlin Wall.
Others, such as Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), pointed out that while COVID has undoubtedly played a part in highlighting issues of the Cuban regime, it’s hardly the only reason people are on the streets. He went on to criticize the Biden administration in a video on twitter Sunday night, saying, “…but Joe Biden has said absolutely nothing. The White House has done absolutely nothing.”
“And we have this tweet from the State Department that makes it look like this is about COVID,” he continued. “This is ridiculous, it’s disgraceful, and I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for Joe Biden and the White House to clearly present that ‘this is about liberty.’”
“‘What the people of Cuba are asking for is liberty.’ Why can’t they say that?”
Biden has since come out to more clearly state his administration’s stance, writing in a statement Monday morning, “We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime.”
Cuban-Americans have taken to the streets in droves to support the protest. Since Sunday, thousands have been on the streets of Miami to show solidarity with the protesters in Cuba. One of the most drastic calls for action came from Francis X. Suarez, Miami’s mayor, who called for a U.S.-led international intervention in Cuba.
Despite the protests, Cuba’s communist government does have international defenders, with some calling the protests a U.S.-led effort and others saying that the situation in Cuba is only occurring because of the decades-long U.S. embargo.
For many exile Cuban communities, concerns about conditions on the island have been increasing for months, especially after the government turned down international aid to fight the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. The country refused to be part of the COVAX vaccine-sharing program, instead opting to make its own vaccines, the first of which was approved for emergency use this week and is allegedly 92% effective.
As of Monday morning, it’s unclear just how many people are still protesting in Cuba, if any. The government’s response was swift and by all accounts brutal, and the internet is still largely shut down across the island.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (NBC News) (Washington Post)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”