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)
South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys
The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.
The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.
The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.
At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.
The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.
Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.
Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.
BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.
Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.
The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.
Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.
See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)
Over 1 Million Chinese Displaced After Record Rainfall
The rain has created waist-high waters throughout the capital of China’s Henan province, drastically affecting the lives of its over 10 million inhabitants.
Trapped in a Flood
The Henan province of central China experienced severe rainfall over the last week that has left at least 25 dead and displaced more than 1.2 million people due to severe flooding, according to figures released by Chinese authorities Wednesday.
Meteorologists claim that the sudden, severe rainfall is caused by Typhoon In-Fa colliding with a high-pressure system over Henan province.
The floods have forced people to wade through waist-high water throughout Zhengzhou, the region’s capital. In one tragic incident Monday, 12 people died after they were trapped in the subway amid rising waters. A similar situation occurred Tuesday, causing multiple lines to be trapped in chest-high water for up to three hours before rescue workers managed to save them. Since then, metro authorities have shut down many of Zhengzhou’s rail lines.
Between Monday and Tuesday alone, Zhengzhou was hit with an estimated 25 inches of rain, equating to about 87% of its average annual rainfall. At one point, seven inches of rain occurred in less than an hour.
In an effort to alleviate rising waters, authorities breached a nearby dam to release floodwaters on Tuesday, although it’s unclear how much that helped as many dams and rivers in the region have overflowed for days.
Elsewhere in Henan, villages have been cut off by landslides and flooding, killing at least four others and leaving some areas without power for more than 24 hours.
Long Recovery Ahead
The region was finally able to begin recovery efforts Wednesday as conditions have begun to die down.
Despite reduced rainfall, the situation has still proven to be dire, leading President Xi Jinping to issue a statement through state media ordering authorities to give top priority to people’s safety and property.
In total, more than 17,000 firefighters have been mobilized for rescue efforts, as well as local volunteers and other rescue crews from other provinces.
Chinese companies have rushed to donate money to help the affected communities, and so far over $300 million has been donated.
It’s likely that for some time, hundreds of thousands in the region will be left without homes as authorities begin the work of ensuring that buildings are safe to return to.
See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (BBC) (The New York Times)
Toyota Largely Pulls Olympic Sponsorship Ads Amid Calls for Games To Be Canceled
Locals in Japan are particularly worried about the spread of COVID-19 among athletes at the densely packed Olympic village, something that has already happened despite assurances that it wouldn’t.
Tainted View on Olympics
The Olympic Games continued to face controversy Monday after Toyota, one of the event’s largest sponsors, announced that it would not air any commercials featuring the Olympics in Japan.
The news may come as a surprise since companies often view their ties to one of the world’s largest sporting events as a major selling point and public relations win. However, Toyota’s decision to distance itself instead highlights a growing trend among brands and locals who view the Games as a semi-toxic subject, especially in Japan where most of the population would like the Games canceled or postponed.
The controversy around the Olympic Games largely revolves around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the decision to host the Games despite rising cases in Japan, concerns about new variants of the virus, and low vaccination rates due to a slow rollout.
Despite Toyota’s recent decision, the company has provided invaluable support to organizers of the Games, including over 3,000 vehicles to transport athletes, crews, and staff. Additionally, the company continues to showcase individual Olympic athletes that it directly sponsors in competitions on its website.
Cardboard “Anti-Sex” Beds
Growing COVID concerns have many on edge, often causing jokes to be taken seriously and spread as misinformation. One such case involved the decision by organizers to use cardboard beds for athletes. Paul Chelimo, from the United States’ track and field team, joked on Twitter, “Beds to be installed in Tokyo Olympic Village will be made of cardboard, this is aimed at avoiding intimacy among athletes.”
“Beds will be able to withstand the weight of a single person to avoid situations beyond sports. I see no problem for distance runners, even 4 of us can do.”
While many understood the statement to be a joke, outlets quickly ran with the sentiment that the beds were actually designed to prevent sex between athletes. Headlines from publications like the New York Post, for instance, read, “Athletes to sleep on ‘anti-sex’ cardboard beds at Olympic Games amid COVID.”
The situation was largely put to rest after Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan posted a video jumping on the beds to prove they were perfectly suited for any activity. Officials at the Games went on to clarify that the decision to use cardboard was because it was a cheap, sustainable option that was easy to dispose of after the games without creating much waste.
The fact that the cardboard beds might prove awkward for athletes to use for sex could be a happy accident for the Olympic organizers, as they’ve made it clear that they don’t want attendees having sex to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They’ve even gone so far as to threaten athletes who have sex during the games with penalties.
In an effort to further dissuade athletes from hanging outside of their dorms or with others, the use of alcohol has largely been banned. Athletes are allowed to have it in their rooms but are supposed to enjoy it while alone.
For many, proof that the Games can’t be protected against COVID-19 has already presented itself, despite assurances from organizers like IOC president Thomas Bach — who said there was “Zero” risk of transmission between athletes and Japanese staff. At least 61 people at the Olympic village have reported contracting COVID since arriving, including at least one U.S. athlete and Japanese workers at the village.
Non-political Games Rocked by Political Tit-for-Tats
The Games have also been rocked with other problems, especially involving Japan and its neighbors.
Korea was forced to take down flags that it had hung from its Olympic Village dorms that read “I still have the support of 50 million Korean people.” The phrase was borrowed from Korean Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, who said, “I still have 12 battleships left,” prior to a lopsided 16th-century naval victory against Japan in the Imjin War.” The phrasing drew outrage from right-wing Japanese groups who asked the International Olympic Committee to have Korea remove the quasi-political statement.
Korea agreed, but only if Japan agreed to use the Rising Sun flag, a standard used by Imperial-era Japan and the Japanese Navy. It’s also one that is often viewed by many East Asians as a symbol as controversial as the Nazi flag is for Westerners.