Fed up with the economic crisis, thousands of Cubans demonstrated this Sunday (11) in various regions, shouting “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!”, while the president Miguel Diaz-Canel he summoned his supporters to take to the streets.
“The order of combat is given: the revolutionaries to the streets,” Díaz-Canel said in a televised speech in which he accused “the Cuban-American mafia” of being behind the uprising.
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“We call on all the revolutionaries in the country, the communists, to take to the streets wherever these provocations take place, from now on and all these days. And to face them decisively, firmly, with courage,” he added.
At dusk, several groups of government supporters gathered in different parts of the capital to prepare the counter-demonstration, AFP found.
The anti-government protests, widely publicized on social media, began spontaneously in the morning, an unusual fact in this country ruled by the Communist Party, where the only authorized concentrations are usually those of the single party itself.
“Down with the dictatorship!”, “Let them leave!” and “Homeland and life!” – title of a controversial song -, thousands of protesters shouted in the streets of San Antonio de los Baños, a small town of 50,000 inhabitants about 30 km from the capital Havana.
“Freedom!” chanted hundreds more at various gatherings in Havana, where clashes broke out between protesters and the police, who used tear gas.
At least 10 people were arrested while the city was under heavy military and police mobilization.
Other protests were reported and broadcast live on Facebook or Twitter in various cities across the country.
Driving a growing number of claims from the population since arriving in the country at the end of 2018, mobile internet was cut off in much of the island from midday.
President Díaz-Canel also headed to the city accompanied by party militants, who marched chanting “Viva Cuba” and “Viva Fidel” while during his trip locals continued to protest loudly against the economic crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic, whose first cases on the island were detected in March 2020, plunged Cuba into its worst economic crisis in three decades.
Every day, Cubans have to wait long hours in lines to get food, and they also face shortages of medicines, which have created strong social unrest.
Economic hardships have also led authorities to enforce multi-hour-a-day electricity cuts in large areas of the country.
“It seems that the energy situation was the one that raised some spirits here,” Diaz-Canel acknowledged in front of journalists, blaming the American sanctions imposed by Donald Trump and maintained so far by Joe Biden.
“If you want the people to get better, first lift the blockade”, imposed since 1962, he added.
“The Cuban-American mafia paying very well on social networks (…) took the situation in Cuba as a pretext and called for demonstrations in all regions of the country,” he said.