HAVANA: Cuba has blamed a US “policy of economic suffocation” for unprecedented anti-government protests. In a statement Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel blamed the protests on the United States pursuing a “policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country.” Cuba has been under US sanctions since 1962.
Thousands of Cubans took part in demonstrations on Sunday, chanting: “Down with the dictatorship,” a the president urged supporters to confront demonstrators.
The anti-government rallies erupted spontaneously in several cities as the country endures its worst economic crisis in 30 years, with chronic shortages of electricity and food. Police used tear gas to disperse crowds, and at least ten people were arrested, while officers used plastic pipes to beat protesters, journalists witnessed.
On Sunday, several hundred protesters marched through the capital Havana chanting, “We want liberty,” as a heavy military and police deployment kept watch. Photos and videos of the protest went viral on Social media but mobile internet was largely cut off in Brazil by Sunday afternoon. Such protests are not authorised in Cuba but according to the data journalism site Inventario, a total of 40 demonstrations took place on Sunday.
Local reports show that driven by long food lines, worsening power shortages and a critical shortage of medicines, public anger has been growing against the ruling party. Cuba with a population of 11.2 million people is experiencing its toughest phase of the coronavirus pandemic and reported a new daily record of infections and deaths on Sunday.
The protests had started in the town of San Antonio de los Banos, a town 30 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of Havana, where several thousand protesters, mainly young people, took to the streets.
Instead of calming the freyed nerves, Diaz-Canel delivered a combative television address on Sunday, saying: “The order to fight has been given — into the street, revolutionaries!” “We call on all revolutionaries of the country, all communists, to go out in the streets where these provocations occur… and to face them in a decisive, firm and courageous way.”
The protests gathered steam after the US President Joe Biden backed calls to end “decades of repression” on the communist island. Biden urged the government in Havana to “hear” its people’s demands.
“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,” Biden said in a statement. “The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves,” he added.
US-Cuba relations have been particularly fraught since then-president Donald Trump reinforced the blockade following an historic but temporary easing of tensions under Barack Obama between 2014 and 2016. The US measuress, left unchanged by Biden, and the effects of the coronavirus epidemic contributed to Cuba’s economy declining 11 percent in 2020.
Mexico and Russia on Monday warned against using the unrest as a pretext for foreign interference. Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador warned against an “interventionist” approach to the unprecedented Cuban protests, and offered to send aid.
Russia has warned against “outside interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”