Thousands of protesters take to the streets in Cuba

HAVANA, July 11th (AFP) Thousands of Cubans across the country took part in rare protests Sunday against the communist government, marching through several towns chanting,

“Down with the dictatorship” and “We want liberty.”

The demonstrations started spontaneously in the morning, as the country endures its worst economic crisis in 30 years. The only authorized gatherings are normally Communist Party events.

Several thousand protesters took to the streets of San Antonio de los Banos, a town of some 50,000 people, 30 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of Havana.

 Thousands of Cubans join rare anti-government protests across Cuba

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel (C) walks with others, in San Antonio de los Banos, Cuba July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Some of the demonstrators, mainly young people, shouted insults against President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Security forces arrived soon after the protests erupted, and Diaz-Canel later visited the town himself surrounded by party activists as residents heckled him, according to videos posted online.

One local, on condition of anonymity, told AFP that she participated in the demonstration as she was exasperated by “the situation with electricity and food.”

Protests also erupted in Havana, with a few hundred people present, while social media showed other demonstrations in the country.

Public anger has been driven by long food lines, worsening power shortages for several hours a day and a critical shortage of medicines since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, with Cuba under US sanctions.

Cuba is experiencing its toughest phase yet of the coronavirus epidemic, and on Sunday reported a new daily record of infections and deaths.

– Boiling anger –

“The energy situation seems to have produced some reaction here,” Diaz-Canel told reporters, blaming US sanctions imposed by Donald Trump and left unchanged by President Joe Biden.

He accused “a Cuban-American mafia” of whipping up the protests on social media, which has only existed in the country for a few years.

“People have come to express their dissatisfaction with the situation they are living in,” he said.

The country of 11.2 million people was left relatively unscathed in the first months of the Covid outbreak but has seen a recent hike in infections, with a new record of 6,923 daily cases reported Sunday and 47 deaths for a total of 1,537.

“These are alarming numbers which are increasing daily,” said Francisco Duran, head of epidemiology in the health ministry.

Under hashtags such as #SOSCuba, calls for assistance have multiplied on social media, with citizens and rap stars alike urging the government to make it possible for much-needed foreign donations to enter the country.

An opposition group called Saturday for the creation of a “humanitarian corridor,” an initiative the government rejected by saying Cuba was not a conflict zone.

Ernesto Soberon, a foreign affairs official, denounced a “campaign” he said sought to “portray an image of total chaos in the country which does not correspond to the situation.”