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 said was government neglect.
The images of protests in Cuba that have gone viral on social media prompted officials in the United States to call for an American-led intervention to topple the ruling government in Havana.
Thousands of Cubans marched on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere on the island on Sunday to protest food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus crisis, in one of biggest anti-government demonstrations in memory.about:blank
Many young people took part in the afternoon protest in the capital, which disrupted traffic until police moved in after several hours and broke up the march when a few protesters threw rocks.
Police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted ‘Freedom,’ ‘Enough’ and ‘Unite.’ One motorcyclist pulled out a US flag, but it was snatched from him by others.
‘We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. That’s why I’m here,’ one middle-age protester told The Associated Press. He declined to identify himself for fear of being arrested later.
Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as it suffers the consequences of US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
‘Cubans are worthy and ready to rule themselves without tyranny,’ Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said on Sunday.
Suarez appeared at a demonstration in the Little Havana section of Miami, where hundreds gathered outside the famous Cuban Versailles restaurant to denounce the Communist regime on the island. Thousands of protesters march
‘It can end today and it must end today. The implications of this moment can mean freedom for millions of people in the hemisphere, from Nicaraguans and Venezuelans and so many more.’
House Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican who represents the Miami area, said this was the ‘beginning of the end’ of the Communist regime and that a ‘perfect storm’ presented an opportunity for the government to be toppled.
House Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona, tweeted: ‘It’s time for the Cuban regime to step down and let Democracy flourish in Cuba.’
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican, tweeted: ‘I am asking [President Joe Biden] and [Secretary of State Antony Blinken] to call on members of the Cuban military to not fire on their own people.
‘The incompetent communist party of #Cuba cannot feed or protect the people from the virus.
‘Now those in the military must defend the people not the communist party.’
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, tweeted: ‘Florida supports the people of Cuba as they take to the streets against the tyrannical regime in Havana.
‘The Cuban dictatorship has repressed the people of Cuba for decades & is now trying to silence those who have the courage to speak out against its disastrous policies.’
Another prominent Republican, Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota, tweeted: ‘The human heart wants to be free. This is as true in Cuba as it is in America.
‘I stand with my friend Senator Rubio and all Cubans looking to throw off the yoke of Communism and join the free world.’
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted: ‘After decades of suffering through a communist dictatorship, the Cuban people deserve liberty.
‘I am proud to stand in solidarity with the people of Cuba who are calling out for freedom.’
House Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, tweeted: ‘America stands with the people of Cuba as they fight for their freedom from a tyrannical government.
‘Socialism has failed everywhere it’s been tried. We can’t let America become another failed socialist experiment.’
Scalise ended the tweet with the hashtags #SOSCuba and #FreedomOverSocialism.’
President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who also heads the Communist Party, blamed the United States for the unrest in a nationally televised speech on Sunday afternoon.
Special forces jeeps, with machine guns mounted on the back, were seen in Havana and Diaz-Canel called on supporters to confront ‘provocations.’
Thousands of people gathered in downtown Havana and along parts of the seaside drive amid a heavy police presence. There were a few arrests and scuffles, but no major confrontations.
The protests broke out in San Antonio de los Banos municipality in Artemisa Province, bordering Havana, with video on social media showing hundreds of residents chanting anti-government slogans and demanding everything from coronavirus vaccines to an end of daily blackouts.
‘I just walked through town looking to buy some food and there were lots of people there, some with signs, protesting,’ local resident Claris Ramirez said by phone.
‘They are protesting blackouts, that there is no medicine,’ she added.
Diaz-Canel, who had just returned from San Antonio de los Banos, said many protesters were sincere but manipulated by US-orchestrated social media campaigns and ‘mercenaries’ on the ground, and warned that further ‘provocations’ would not be tolerated.
There were protests later on Sunday hundreds of miles to the east in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, where social media video showed hundreds marching through the streets, again confirmed by a local resident.
‘They are protesting the crisis, that there is no food or medicine, that you have to buy everything at the foreign currency stores, and on and on the list goes,’ Claudia Perez said.
‘We are calling on all the revolutionaries in the country, all the Communists, to hit the streets wherever there is an effort to produce these provocations,’ Diaz-Canel said in his broadcast remarks.
The Communist-run country has been experiencing a worsening economic crisis for two years, which the government blames mainly on US sanctions and the pandemic, while its detractors cite incompetence and a Soviet-style one-party system.
The demonstration in Havana grew to a few thousand in the vicinity of Galeano Avenue and the marchers pressed on despite a few charges by police officers and tear gas barrages.
People standing on many balconies along the central artery in the Centro Habana neighborhood applauded the protesters passing by. Others joined in the march.
Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon.
About two-and-a-half hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed.
A group of government supporters also arrived in the area shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the revolution. Some of them assaulted a cameraman and an AP photographer.
Demonstrations were also held elsewhere on the island, including the small town of San Antonio de los Banos, where people protested power outages and were visited by Díaz-Canel.
He entered a few homes, where he took questions from residents.
Afterward, though, he accused Cuban Americans of stirring up trouble.
‘As if pandemic outbreaks had not existed all over the world, the Cuban-American mafia, paying very well on social networks to influencers and Youtubers, has created a whole campaign … and has called for demonstrations across the country,’ Diaz-Canel told reporters.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez echoed the president’s comments.
‘President @DiazCanelB is in San Antonio de los Baños with the revolutionary people that are mobilized against the imperialist campaign and its salaried agents,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘We appreciate the international solidarity and support of Cubans living abroad #EliminatetheBlockade.’