Jul 14, 2021 - Podcasts

Cuban government cracks down on protesters

Cuban activists are saying more than 100 people are missing or have been arrested during recent protests on the island over economic conditions. The protests are the largest in decades.

  • Plus, the growing debate over COVID booster shots.
  • And, Texas lawmakers flee the state to block GOP-led voting restrictions.

Guests: Telemundo News' Marina Franco, Axios' Caitlin Owens and Stef Kight.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Justin Kaufmann, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s July 14th -- we’ve made it to Wednesday.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: do you need a COVID booster shot? Plus, Texas Democrats take their fight over voting rights to DC.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: the Cuban government cracks down on protesters.

NIALA: Cuban activists are saying more than 100 people are missing or have been arrested during recent protests on the island. These protests over economic conditions are the largest in decades. Marina Franco is here with us for the latest. She writes the Axios Latino newsletter. What do we know about who's been arrested?

MARINA FRANCO: So far, there's very little information yeah. Coming in from the island because the government shut down the internet. So the identities of all those who have been detained, or even the actual number of how many have been detained are undetermined, but just this Tuesday, there was a very high profile arrest when YouTuber Dina Stars who livestreamed most of their protest on Sunday was detained and taken who knows where, while she was getting a broadcast news interview.

NIALA: What kind of rights do Cuban citizens have to peaceful protest.

MARINA: Protests have always been a very difficult topic for Cubans. They are very highly regulated. Most protests are usually just, the Cuban government summoning people to be like, yes, long Live the Homeland. but actual protests do not have permits and so protests are usually not as numerous. And what was shocking about Sunday's protests was not only how many people seem to spontaneously have gone out into the streets, but in how many cities and towns they did so.

NIALA: And what was the theme of them? What were people saying?

MARINA: There is food scarcity. There's medicine scarcity. The coronavirus pandemic is not under control in the island and people cannot get treatments. So there's a real frustration that has been brewing for some time. Several recent trigger events like the San Isidro protests in November, or even one of the San Isidro members who is a rapper called Michael Osobro in April when they were trying to arrest him. People actually went out into the streets and defended him when he was handcuffed and got the handcuffs off. So there's been these little sort of shows of resistance ever more overt than they have been in decades. So really it was just the boiling point that was hit.

NIALA: What are you watching for next Marina?

MARINA: I think the most important thing to look out for is whether these protests continue, whether this many people still resist the police in ways they haven't for many years, because the government response will always be the same. It’ll always be. Claiming that this is some outside attempt that it's all on the embargo and the embargo has partly worsened the situation, but it's not all on the embargo. So I think the most important thing will be whether people still keep to the streets, even if the police response and the government response continues to be the repression that we have seen since Sunday.

NIALA: We'll continue watching this story unfold in Cuba. Marina Franco writes the Axios Latino newsletter. Thanks Marina.

MARINA: Thank you so much. Niala.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with debate over the COVID booster.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today!

NIALA: If you're vaccinated against COVID-19, will you need a booster shot to stay protected? That's the big confusing and increasingly contentious question right now. Axios’ Caitlin Owens is going to help us understand what we do know. Hey Caitlin!


NIALA: Let's start with what the science says. What is it telling us about boosters?

CAITLIN: Let's back up even a second here. When we talk about vaccine boosters, that is very common. I mean, when you think about the flu, you get a flu shot every year, and technically that's a booster. So when you talk to scientists about COVID boosters, they say that it's very likely that at some point, people will need a booster, especially vulnerable people. The question is when, and you know, most of them look at the evidence that is coming out today, uh, the data that we have today and say, not yet. What you're starting to see chatter about is whether vulnerable people who are vaccinated early on, so December, January, whether they-it’s about time for them to get a booster.

NIALA: Are there specific populations that should be paying closer attention to this, Caitlin?

CAITLIN: There is data coming out suggesting that immunocompromised people could really benefit from a third shot. The point would be to basically get their protection levels to where everyone else is right now with only two shots. So I would watch that and see if there's some movement. But for everyone else, you know, I think it could be a bit of time. But, you know, all I can tell you is from my own reporting, at this time, there is not substantial evidence that anyone needs a third shot. That being said, there's a lot of ongoing studies happening. A lot of new data that will continue to emerge and there will be signs if-if-if people need a booster, if their immunity is waning, if they're starting to be more severe breakthrough cases within vaccinated people, those are all signs that, Hey, maybe people do need a third shot and then we can have more serious discussion about it.

NIALA: So when that happens, should people expect clear guidance from the CDC or the Biden administration?

CAITLIN: I would think so. You know, I think that it will be a judgment call when it's time to, for people to get boosters, but that's a conversation that-it's not going to be behind closed doors. It's also highly political, you know, where I think a lot of the world is looking at the United States, having this conversation about a third shot of the vaccine and saying, Hey, wait a minute. Most of the world has not received a first shot and y'all are worried about this. You know, which has big implications for international politics.

NIALA: Caitlin Owens is an Axios’ healthcare reporter. Caitlin, thank you.

CAITLIN: Thank you.

NIALA: On Monday night, dozens of Texas lawmakers fled the State House to go to Washington D.C. They're refusing to return until the legislative session ends - their way to block passage of a bill restricting voting rights. Yesterday, Republicans responded by passing their own bill saying that Democratic lawmakers should be arrested and brought back. Axios politics reporter Stef Kight is here to catch us up quick on this. Hey Stef, what's going on here?

STEF KIGHT: This is really a wild situation we're seeing play out in Texas right now. And, you know, I think it's important to note that although Republicans have said that law enforcement should go after these state house Democrats and bring them back to the Capitol to vote, Texas law enforcement doesn't actually have jurisdiction in Washington, D.C. So there's really no way for them to do that while these Democrats are in Washington, D.C., which is probably why they went there. But this really does illustrate just how big of an issue voting rights and voting rules has become and how partisan it's become and how much Democrats are really rallying around this issue and how this is so important that Democrats felt like they had to take this move.

NIALA: Is this a situation that is like an only-in-Texas situation or does this have ramifications for other states that are also going through these arguments?

STEF: I think a lot of states are watching what's happening in Texas because it is this perfect example where Democrats really don't have that many options to push back. Republicans control the legislature, there's a Republican in the governor's seat, and Texas' courts also tend to favor conservatives. So even when lawsuits are brought, there could be difficulties faced there as well. So there really aren't very many options for Democrats in Texas and-and that's something that we're seeing in other states as well. So we have certainly seen, um, people in other states looking to Democrats in Texas to see how they handle this. And I'm sure they're taking notes.

NIALA: Axios’ political reporter, Stef Kight. Thank you, Stef.

STEF: Thank you.

NIALA: Finally today -- you may have noticed that we’ve been bringing you more local stories from cities across the country every week...well we want to know what’s going on in your city or town, and the stories unfolding there that you think have national significance. You can share your ideas by texting me at (202) 918-4893. And that’s it for today - I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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