Raúl Castro stepped down from his top post in the Communist Party in April 2021, leaving behind a changed Cuba.
It is no longer a Soviet-backed ideological challenger — or nuclear threat — to the United States. Bereft of international communist patrons and financially isolated from the world by the strict, decades-old U.S. embargo, Cuba is ailing.
For so long the bearded, fatigues-clad Fidel Castro defended the pain of the Cuban people as the righteous struggle of a proudly sovereign nation. Díaz-Canel, born in 1960, lacks Castro's charismatic ability to invoke the faded revolutionary past.
Ever fewer Cubans even remember those heady post-revolution years, says Cuba historian Joseph Gonzalez.
"Unlike their parents and grandparents, Cubans in their 20s, 30s and 40s never enjoyed a sustained, functional contract with the regime: We provide you a living, and in exchange you give us support, or at least acquiescence," Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez says younger generations in Cuba still trust the government to provide free quality health care and education — both achievements of the Castro era.
"But they know it cannot feed, clothe and house its people in any but the most basic way," he says.
Today Cubans have to hustle to survive; many work two jobs. A recent currency change means cash is scarce and many everyday goods are unaffordable. And after a year keeping the pandemic largely at bay, COVID-19 is surging on the island.
These most recent protests suggest some Cubans are sick of so much struggle.
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Catesby Holmes is the international and politics editor at The Conversation, U.S.