“The Cuban people courageously claim their fundamental and universal rights. These rights, including the right to protest peacefully and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected, ”Biden said in a statement. “The United States calls on the Cuban regime to listen to its people and meet their needs at this vital time rather than enrich themselves. Singing “freedom” and calling for the resignation of President Miguel Diaz-Canel, thousands of Cubans joined street protests from Havana to Santiago on Sunday in the biggest anti-government protests on the Communist-led island in years. decades.
The protests erupted amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, its former ally, and a record rise in coronavirus infections, with people expressing anger over the commodity shortage , restrictions on civil liberties and the authorities’ management of the pandemic.
Diaz-Canel in a nationally televised address Monday morning blamed US sanctions, which have been tightened in recent years, for economic problems such as drug shortages and power outages that fueled unusual protests over the weekend .
Sanctions were tightened under the administration of former President Donald Trump after his predecessor, Barack Obama, took steps to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba after decades of acrimony between countries.
“In recent weeks, the campaign against the Cuban revolution has intensified in social media, building on the problems and shortages we are experiencing,” said Diaz-Canel.
He described the vandalism seen in some cities as “vulgar, indecent and delinquent behavior”.
Hundreds of people gathered in Miami, home to a large Cuban population, on Sunday in support of protesters in the Caribbean island nation of 11 million.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki rejected Diaz-Canel’s characterization of the cause of the unrest.
“Everything indicates that yesterday’s protests were spontaneous expressions of people exhausted by the economic mismanagement and repression of the Cuban government,” she said.
Sporadic incidents, largely peaceful protests
Appearing alongside his cabinet in a nationally televised address, Diaz-Canel reiterated the right of peoples to defend their system.
Thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday in various parts of Havana, including the historic center, drowning groups of government supporters waving the Cuban flag and chanting “Fidel”.
Protests in Havana started around 3 p.m. and ended around 8 p.m., with some protesters giving up after security forces foiled their attempt to reach Revolution Square.
Special forces jeeps, with rear-mounted machine guns, were seen throughout the capital and the police presence was strong even long after most of the protesters returned home.
“We are going through really difficult times,” Miranda Lazara, 53, a dance teacher, who joined the thousands of demonstrators who marched in Havana. “We need a system change. “
Reuters witnesses during protests in Havana saw security forces, aided by suspected plainclothes agents, arrest around 20 protesters. Police used pepper spray and beat protesters and a photographer working for the Associated Press.
In a neighborhood of Havana, demonstrators expressed their anger at an empty police car, knocked it over and then threw stones at it. Elsewhere, they chanted “repressors” to riot police.
There were protests later on Sunday hundreds of kilometers east in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, where a social media video showed hundreds of people walking the streets, again confirmed by a resident.
Economic and pandemic woes
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the United States “would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights.”
Some protesters said they took to the streets to participate after seeing what was happening on social media, which has become an increasingly important factor since the introduction of mobile internet two years ago. and a half, although connections were spotty on Sunday.
The anti-government protests were the biggest since the summer of 1994, said Michael Bustamante, assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University.
“Only now they weren’t limited to the capital; they haven’t even started there, it seems, ”he said.
Cuba has been going through a worsening economic crisis for two years. A combination of sanctions, inefficiencies and the pandemic has shut down tourism and slowed other foreign income streams in a country that depends on it to import most of its food, fuel and inputs for it. agriculture and manufacturing.
The economy contracted 10.9% last year and 2% through June. The resulting cash shortage spawned shortages that forced Cubans to queue for hours for basic items throughout the pandemic.
Reaction of the Speaker of the Democratic House, Republican Cuban-American senator:
The appeal for freedom and fundamental rights launched by the Cuban people who peacefully take to the streets and walk is an act of great courage. I support the Cuban people in their quest for freedom and condemn any violence or targeting of those who exercise their rights.
Events at #Cuba are not just about “shortages”
Socialism promises food, medicine & income if you give up your freedom
When, as always, that fails, you don’t get your freedom back
Cuba has launched a mass vaccination campaign, with 1.7 million of its 11.2 million people vaccinated to date and twice as many have received at least one injection in the three-shot process.
Yet the arrival of the delta variant has caused an upsurge in cases, with health authorities reporting a record 6,923 cases and 47 deaths on Sunday, twice as many as the week before.
Psaki said the United States could help by providing vaccines, but stressed that the island nation was not participating in the COVAX sharing program. She did not have an explanation for a reporter’s question as to why Biden did not reverse the policy that saw Trump ban remittances from Cubans elsewhere in the world to their home countries, despite a campaign promise to this effect.