Scores of impoverished Cubans took to the streets of nearly every city in the country Sunday to protest against the shortages in food, electricity and medicines, in addition to the already usual restrictions upon individual liberties.
Demonstrators chanted “I want freedom” or “we are not afraid” in what was said to be the biggest anti-government protest in 30 years. But this time around, they added “I want vaccines,” as a surge in coronavirus cases and low immunization rates has added the hardships Cubans are used to enduring.
“We’re tired of queues and shortages, which is why I’m here,” a middle-aged protester told The Associated Press in Havana.
Protests spread worldwide, from Miami, where a large Cuban community lives, to almost every Latin American capital where people gathered in front of the local¡ Cuban embassy or consulate in support of their fellow Cubans back at home.
Cuban authorities shut down Internet services throughout the afternoon so little became known of what happened afterwards, although there were some reports of strong police repression against both the crowds and the media with tear gas and other tools, and many arrests were made.
“As if a pandemic outbreak did not exist around the world, the Cuban-American mafia paid influential people and YouTubers very well on social media to create the entire campaign,” said President Miguel Diaz Cannell told reporters.
In an instant television speech, he denounced protests against US efforts to create a social rebellion by strengthening the embargo and warned that protesters would face a strong reaction.
In fact, peaceful demonstrators were intercepted by the security forces, leading to violent clashes and arrests at the Parque de la Fraternidad, in front of the Capitol in downtown Havana. Those who escaped arrest went then to the emblematic Paseo del Prado towards the Malecón with their arms raised and shouting slogans such as freedom, homeland and life and dictators.”.
It is the first time that a large group of Cubans have taken to the streets to protest against the Government since the famous Maleconazo of 1994, in the midst of the crisis of the special period.
Díaz-Canel called on the “communist revolutionaries to fight” the protesting Cubans: “We are ready to give our lives. They have to step over our corpses if they want to confront the revolution. We are ready for anything.”
The president insisted through a face mask that we are not going to allow any counterrevolutionary, mercenary, sold to the American empire, to provoke destabilization.
“There will be a revolutionary response. That is why we call on all communist revolutionaries to take to the streets where these provocations are going to take place and confront them decisively,” he added. The order of combat is given, the revolutionaries take to the streets,” he said in a special television appearance.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, Cubans have been forced to wait in long lines to stock up on food, a situation that has been compounded by a severe shortage of medicines, which has generated widespread social unrest.
According to the latest reports, Cubans were planning to stage a full-scale nationwide strike Monday.