Cuba: President blames unrest on US 'economic asphyxiation'
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For the first time 1994, Cubans protested over high prices, food shortages, an economic crisis and a lack of freedom. Unauthorised public gatherings are illegal in Cuba and protests are rare, with around 100 people already arrested according to local reports and opposition sources.
Starting on Sunday, protestors across the country began marching against President Díaz-Canel’s regime.
Reports from the San Antonio de los Baños municipality, Artemisa province, held demonstrators shouted “Freedom!”, “Homeland and Life!”, “Down with the Dictatorship!”, “We are not afraid!” and “Díaz-Canel, bastard!” on Sunday.
Demonstrators broadcast the protest through live streams on social media’s as they walked through the central streets of the city, in front of dozens of officers of the National Revolutionary Police and State Security.
In response the military’s Rapid Response Brigades were deployed and used tear gas on the demonstrators.
Residents in Havana and in the east of the country, in Palma Soriano, province of Santiago de Cuba, also demonstrated.
READ MORE: Cuba blames US for unrest as Joe Biden throws weight behind protestors
According to internet monitoring site Netblocks, social media sites were blocked by the state-owned telecommunications company Etecsa.
Patrick Oppmann, from CNN, shared on Twitter that the Cuban government insisted there have been no further protests on Monday.
He added it is “impossible to know what the real picture is across the island as much of Cuba remains under an internet blackout”.
Legal help centre Cubalex suggest around 100 people were arrested on Sunday.
Cuban’s have said there is “no freedom” in the country as it grapples with multiple crises.
In the three days up to July 13, Cuba reported its highest numbers of infections and deaths from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in the country, at 6,400 cases.
July 12 saw infections and death peak at 6,923 cases and 47 deaths.
Cubans inside and outside the island have launched an appeal “SOS Cuba,” asking for a health intervention.
The pandemic has also severely hit Cuba’s tourism industry, which is the country’s main source of income.
Cuba’s health crisis also comes as the economic situation in the country worsens, with long queues in markets to have access to food (which also favours the spread of the virus) and other basic supplies, inflation, lack of medicines and long power outages.
In response to the demonstrations, President Miguel Díaz-Canel held a four-hour conference where he called the protesters “mercenaries” who “receive money from US agencies”, and assured there will be a response.
Mr Díaz-Canel, in a speech that has been described as a dangerous confrontation by ABC International, then called on “revolutionary Cubans and communists to take to the streets” to confront those who protest.
He added: “They will have to go over our dead bodies”
The leader spoke live from the Palace of the Revolution after his visit to San Antonio de los Baños, where one of the first protests took place this Sunday in Cuba.
The national leader also blamed US embargoes on Cuba, which have been in place since 1962, and said: “There is no doubt that they want to create an incident to justify an intervention.”
Humanitarian experts and international leaders have called on Mr Díaz-Canel to allow Cuban’s their freedoms.
José Miguel Vivanco, executive director for the Americas of the NGO Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter: “We have received complaints of arbitrary detentions of protesters and possible internet cuts.
“Thousands of Cubans want to live better and with basic freedoms. Faced with this fair claim, it seems that, once again, Díaz-Canel is only capable of responding with repression.”
In a statement on Monday, US President Joe Biden said Cuban protesters were asserting their basic rights.
He said: “We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime.”
He then urged the Cuban government to serve their people “rather than enriching themselves”.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega
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