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 the largest anti-government protests in memory. Many young people took part in the afternoon’s protest in the capital, which disrupted traffic until after several hours police intervened and halted the march when a few protesters threw stones.
Police initially lagged behind as protesters chanted “Freedom”, “Enough” and “Unite”. A motorcyclist pulled out an American flag, but it was ripped off by others.
“We’re sick of the queues, the shortages. That’s why I’m here,” a middle-aged protester told The Associated Press. He refused to identify himself for fear of being arrested later.
Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, accompanied by a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as it suffers the consequences of US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
A Biden administration official tweeted his support for Sunday’s protests.
“Peaceful protests are on the rise in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern over increasing COVID cases / deaths and drug shortages. We applaud the many efforts of the Cuban people to mobilize donations to help neighbors in need, “tweeted Julie Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
In a suite Tweeter, Chung said the United States was “deeply concerned about the ‘calls to fight’ in #CubaShe reiterated the US government’s support for the right of the Cuban people to demonstrate peacefully, and added: “We call for calm and condemn all violence.”
Cuba’s Director General for American Affairs, Carlos F. de Cossio, dismissed his comments in his own tweet: “The US State Department and its officials, up to their necks involved in promoting social instability and politics in #Cuba, should avoid expressing hypocritical concern for a situation they are betting on. Cuba is and will remain a peaceful country, unlike the United States.
The demonstration grew to a few thousand around Avenida Galeano and the demonstrators continued despite a few police charges and tear gas barrages. People standing on numerous balconies along the central thoroughfare of the Centro Habana district applauded the passing protesters. Others joined in the march.
Although many people tried to pull out their cell phones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon.
About 2.5 hours after the start of the march, some protesters tore up cobblestones and threw them at the police, at which point the officers started arresting people and the protesters dispersed.
AP journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in plain clothes.
“People have come out to express themselves freely, and they are repressing and beating them,” Reverend Jorge Luis Gil, a Roman Catholic priest, said as he stood on a street corner in Centro Habana.
About 300 people close to the government then arrived with a large Cuban flag shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Some in the group assaulted an AP cameraman, disabling his camera, while an AP photographer was injured by police.
Demonstrations also took place elsewhere on the island, including in the small town of San Antonio de los Banos, where people protested against the power outages and were visited by President Miguel Díaz-Canel. He entered a few houses, where he answered questions from residents.
Subsequently, however, he accused the Cuban Americans of causing trouble.
“As if the pandemic epidemics had not existed everywhere in the world, the Cuban-American mafia, paying very well on social networks, influencers and Youtubers, created a whole campaign … and called for demonstrations across the country, ”he added. Canel told reporters.
Many Cubans werewhen the Biden administration turned down an opportunity to reverse the harsher policies instituted against their nation by former President Donald Trump. The White House Biden did not lift a wave of by Mr. Trump on Cuba just before he left office, and the United States was almost alone on June 23 to vote against a United Nations resolution condemning Washington’s six-decade embargo on the island.
As CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum reported, many Cubans – including doctors and nurses who say their ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic has been hampered by US sanctions – had hoped to see the administration Biden to abstain from voting at the UN,in 2016. Instead, the United States voted “No” again, as it did under former President Trump.
A total of 184 nations voted in favor of the resolution condemning the US embargo on Cuba. The same resolution has been passed easily every year since its first appearance in 1992.