Thousands of Cubans have taken part in the island’s largest anti-communist protests in decades.
On social media, images appeared to show security personnel detaining and assaulting some of the demonstrators. The collapse of the economy, as well as limits on civil liberties and the government’s handling of the pandemic, have enraged Cubans.
“Down with the dictatorship!” they shouted as they marched through towns including Havana, Cuba’s capital.
After Cuba reported roughly 7,000 daily cases and 47 deaths on Sunday, the protesters demanded a speedier coronavirus immunization program. Cuba’s primarily state-controlled economy dropped by 11% last year, its steepest drop in over three decades. The pandemic and US sanctions wreaked havoc on the country.
Thousands of pro-government supporters also took to the streets as President urged them to protect the revolution on television, referring to the 1959 revolt that ushered in decades of Communist rule. The protests, according to President Miguel Dáz-Canel, were staged by mercenaries recruited by the US to destabilize the country.
“The order to fight has been given – into the street, revolutionaries!” he said in an address on TV.
The White House has stated that it supports the Cuban people and has urged government officials to “hear their people and serve their needs” rather than their own. “We are very alarmed about ‘calls to combat’ in Cuba,” said Julie Chung, the US’s senior ambassador for Latin America.
“The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.
The anti-government demonstrations began in the city of San Antonio de los Baos, south of Havana, but quickly expanded across the country. Many were aired live on social media, with demonstrators yelling anti-government and anti-presidential slogans and calling for change.
“This is the day. We can’t take it anymore. There is no food, there is no medicine, there is no freedom. They do not let us live. We are already tired,” one of the protesters, told the BBC.
People were seen overturning police cars and looting some state-owned shops that sold goods in foreign currency, according to social media posts. Many Cubans rely on these shops to purchase essential supplies, yet the costs are exorbitant.
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