A day after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Cuba to protest the island nation’s economic crisis, large contingents of police were sent to patrol the capital of Havana and the island nation’s president blames a US embargo for widespread shortages of food, fuel, medicine and other goods during the pandemic.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel said on Monday that a “policy of economic suffocation” had a “cumulative effect” across Cuba.
He and officials from his government said US sanctions against Cuba contributed to power outages and limited access to food and medical supplies during the pandemic.
Speaking about the economic problems of Cuban society and the reasons why some are protesting, Díaz-Canel said: “What is their origin, what is their cause? It’s the blockade.
Díaz-Canel said the Cuban protests were the result of a US campaign and social media to manipulate people as the island faces hardship during the pandemic.
Thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the country on Sunday, shouting slogans against the government such as “We want freedom” and “We are no longer afraid”.
Rights groups and opposition activists reported that dozens of people were missing or detained on Monday following the protests. But internet connectivity outages made it difficult to determine the extent of the arrests.
Cuban police patrolled the capital of Havana in large numbers on Monday, according to the Associated Press.
Díaz-Canel declared that it was legitimate “to have dissatisfaction, but also that we must be able to visualize, to define when we are being manipulated, where they want to separate us”.
He said the forces that want to appear as “saviors” in Cuba “are not interested in the health of the people.”
“They want to change a system, or a regime they call for, to impose what kind of government and what kind of regime in Cuba? The privatization of public services. The kind that gives more possibilities to the wealthy minority, not the majority. “
The Cuban health minister said the embargo had impacted Cuba’s ability to fight the virus by limiting drugs and supplies to make drugs, as well as equipment such as ventilators.
Díaz-Canel also denounced what he called the “Cuban Mafia” in Miami, referring to members of the Cuban-American community and lawmakers opposed to the Communist government.
Cuba is currently facing its worst economic crisis in decades, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, made worse by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic halted tourism, which was a key driver of the island economy. The country has since experienced food shortages, power outages and an increase in coronavirus cases.
It has also seen an increase in the crackdown on political opponents and a strained healthcare system during a critical phase of the pandemic. Health officials have reported nearly 7,000 new cases and 47 deaths – a record number of infections and deaths on the Caribbean island of just over 11 million people.
In Havana, protests disrupted traffic on Sunday until police intervened after several hours and interrupted the march when a few protesters threw stones, according to the AP.
“We are fed up with queues, shortages. That’s why I’m here, ”a middle-aged protester told the AP. He refused to identify himself for fear of being arrested later.
Later, around 300 pro-government protesters arrived with a large Cuban flag, shouting slogans in support of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution, the PA reported. Some assaulted an AP video journalist, breaking his camera. PA photojournalist Ramón Espinosa was then beaten by a group of uniformed and plainclothes police; he suffered a broken nose and an eye injury.
The protest spread to a few thousand near Galeano Avenue and the protesters continued despite a few police charges and tear gas barrages, the AP reported.
Although many people tried to pull out their cell phones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon.
More than two hours after the start of the march, some protesters tore up cobblestones and threw them at the police, at which point the police started arresting people and the protesters dispersed.
PA journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in plain clothes.
In Miami, hundreds of people gathered in the Little Havana neighborhood in solidarity with the growing protests in Cuba. “I know my family in Cuba is in trouble, people are dying. It’s terrible, ”Miami resident Christian Guzmán told NBC WTVJ.
“Right now it’s difficult. There is no food, there is no medicine. The Covid epidemic. The whole country is on the streets, ”said Darío Suárez, a Miami resident.
Díaz-Canel appeared on national television earlier to call on the army to confront the demonstrators: “The order to fight has been given,” he said.
Díaz-Canel also called “all the revolutionaries of the country, all the communists, to take to the streets and to go to the places where these provocations are going to take place”.
US President Joe Biden said on Monday that he recognized the “remarkable protests in Cuba” and that such protests had not been seen for a long time, “frankly never.”
Biden said the United States stands “firmly on the side of the Cuban people as they assert their universal rights” and called on the government to “refrain from all violence” or “attempt to silence” protesters .
Earlier Monday, Biden said in a statement that the Cuban protests were a “bugle call for freedom.”
“We stand by the Cuban people and their clear call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and the decades of repression and economic suffering to which it has been subjected by the authoritarian regime in Cuba,” he said. Biden said in a statement.
“The United States calls on the Cuban regime to listen to its people and respond to their needs at this vital moment rather than getting rich,” he added.
Also on Monday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called for an end to the US embargo on Cuba.
“The truth is that if we want to help Cuba, the first thing to do is to suspend the blockade of Cuba as demanded by the majority of the countries of the world,” Lopez Obrador told a press conference, according to Reuters. .