HAVANA – Thousands of Cubans took to the streets from Havana to Santiago on Sunday in rarely seen protests, expressing frustration over pandemic restrictions, the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations and what they called neglect of the government.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who also heads the Communist Party, blamed the United States for the unrest in a nationally televised speech Sunday afternoon.
Special forces jeeps with rear-mounted machine guns were seen in Havana, and Diaz-Canel called on his supporters to face “provocations.”
Thousands of people gathered in downtown Havana and along parts of the seaside promenade amid a heavy police presence. There have been a few arrests and scuffles, but no major clashes.
Protests erupted in the municipality of San Antonio de los Banos, in the province of Artemisa, on the border with Havana, with a video on social media showing hundreds of residents chanting anti-government slogans and demanding everything , coronavirus vaccines at the end of daily power cuts.
“I just walked through town looking to buy food and there were a lot of people there, some with signs, protesting,” local resident Claris Ramirez said over the phone.
“They are protesting against the power cuts, that there are no drugs,” she added.
Diaz-Canel, who had just returned from San Antonio de los Banos, said many protesters were sincere but manipulated by social media campaigns orchestrated by the United States and “mercenaries” on the ground, and he said. warned that further “provocations” would not be tolerated.
There were protests later on Sunday hundreds of kilometers east in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, where a video on social media showed hundreds of people walking the streets, again confirmed by a local resident.
“They are protesting against the crisis, that there is no food or medicine, that everything has to be bought in foreign exchange stores, and so on,” said Claudia Perez.
“We call on all revolutionaries in the country, all communists, to take to the streets wherever there is an effort to produce these provocations,” Diaz-Canel said in his broadcast remarks.
The communist-ruled country has been experiencing a worsening economic crisis for two years, which the government blames mainly on US sanctions and the pandemic, while critics cite incompetence and a Soviet-style one-party system.