Cuban yougnsters react during a demonstration in Havana University, in Havana, Cuba, on Oct. 17, 2016. (Xinhua/Joaquin Hernandez)
By Noemi Galban
HAVANA, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- More than 75 percent of Cuba's population have lived in the condition of scarcity and constraint imposed by the U.S.-led trade and economic embargoes, according to official sources.
The lives of Cuban youth have been marked by hardship due to a five-decade-old policy that even U.S. President Barack Obama has labeled "obsolete" and "failed."
Thousands of Cuban university and high school students demonstrated against the embargo on Monday, as part of a nationwide day of protest, organized by the Federation of University Students (FEU), against a measure that has crippled the country's economy for half a century.
In the capital, students converged at the University of Havana, which served as a focal point for the day's events ranging from rallies to online signature drives to condemn the "blockade" as Cubans call it, since the web of sanctions effectively blocks the small Caribbean country from doing business with the outside world.
"Today, we young people have gathered to protest a policy that affects everyone across the board, especially youth," student leader and FEU president at Havana University, Raul Palmero, told Xinhua.
"The blockade impedes our future prospects, that's why demanding it be lifted has become one of our missions," said Palmero.
Ivan Diaz, a first-year medical student, said the impact of the blockade is not a fiction put forward by Cuba's government to mask structural problems or shortcomings.
"The blockade is real and palpable. We experience its effects each day in every area of the country's economic, political and social life," said Diaz.
If there is a silver lining to be found in the oppressive and long-running embargo, Diaz appears to have found it.
"It is also an incentive to use everyone's ingenuity and effort to counter its negative impact, though it is undeniable that it hampers our full development as individuals and as a nation," said Diaz.
Tania Corrales, a student of international relations, said the protests served to highlight the "distortion" caused by the blockade.
"My entire generation was born under the blockade, and it places limits for each one of us on knowledge, the chances of what you can acquire, access to resources, technologies and information. That's why we are here, to defend the right we all have to aspire and struggle for a better future," said Corrales.
Students found a range of creative ways to protest the outdated policy, painting murals with anti-embargo messages and participating in a selfie contest by posting photos of themselves with the day's rallying cry: #YoVotoVsBloqueo, which roughly translates as "I vote against the embargo."
The hashtag #YoVotoVsBloqueo was trending on Twitter in Latin America, with more than 11,000 posts.
A worker rolls cigars at a factory in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 26, 2015. (Xinhua/Liu Bin)
Organizers also set up a website where anyone could vote against the embargo, and by early Tuesday afternoon, the site, www.cubavsbloqueo.cu, had gathered more than 18,000 votes.
The timing of the protests aims to raise the pressure on the United States as the United Nations General Assembly readies for its annual vote on a resolution that condemns the embargo and calls for it to be repealed.
"This is a way for us to share our points of view, to become interested in what is happening on the issue, and to support our government's effort to influence the voting process at the United Nations on Oct. 26," said Yuris Bravo, a student of communications.
However, the top Republican in the U.S. Congress said on Tuesday he intended to keep the trade restrictions in place, dimming hopes for an end to the embargo in the near future.
"As the past two years of normalizing relations have only emboldened the regime at the expense of the Cuban people, I fully intend to maintain our embargo on Cuba," U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.
Since 1992, a Cuba-sponsored resolution calling on the U.S. to lift the embargo has been voted on annually, and has received the overwhelming support of the international community 24 years in a row.
Last year's vote saw Washington and its stalwart ally Israel isolated from the rest of the world, with 191 votes in favor of the resolution and zero abstentions, versus their two votes against.
Cuba's youth question why the two countries can override the opinion and vote of the rest of the democratic world.
Cuba estimates that more than 50 years of sanctions have cost the country some 125.87 billion U.S. dollars in lost revenue and productivity.