Thousands of Cubans have taken to the streets this Sunday to protest against the Government shouting “freedom!” in an unprecedented day that resulted in hundreds of arrests and clashes after President Miguel Díaz-Canel ordered his supporters to come out to confront the protesters.
They report looting of stores in foreign currency amid protests in Cuba
The protests, the strongest that have occurred in Cuba since the so-called “maleconazo” of August 1994, occur with the country plunged into a serious economic and health crisis, with the pandemic out of control and a severe shortage of food, medicine and other basic products, in addition to long power outages.
Some images of hundreds of people marching amid shouts of “down with the dictatorship” and “homeland and life” through the streets of the town of San Antonio de los Baños, in Artemisa (west), lit the fuse on social networks and gave initiation of calls to protest throughout Cuba.
To the cry of freedom
From west to east, including Havana, thousands of Cubans marched – peacefully in most cases – crying out for “freedom” and shouting slogans against the government and President Díaz-Canel.
After San Antonio de los Baños, protests broke out in Palma Soriano (Santiago de Cuba), Alquízar, Güira de Melena, Havana, and the provincial capitals of Camagüey, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila and Santiago de Cuba, among many other places.
In the capital they took place in several places, including the central 23rd Street, where a group of young people led by the playwright Yunior García Aguilera gathered before the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television and held a sit-in that ended in verbal confrontations with workers. and supporters of the Revolution, and the violent detention of all young people, according to an Efe team present at the scene.
Thousands in Havana
One of the most massive protests took place in front of the Havana Capitol, where some 2,000 people gathered who later went down the Paseo del Prado towards the Malecón shouting “dictators” and “down with communism”, among other phrases.
Military trucks blocked access to the Malecón to prevent the entrance of this demonstration, which dispersed running through the streets of the area trying to reach the emblematic promenade.
During that demonstration, Spanish photojournalist Ramón Espinosa of the Associated Press was injured, and other foreign correspondents had their phones and equipment stolen.
Although initially the actions had taken place without police intervention, throughout the afternoon the spirits were heating up and the arrests of protesters began to take place, who were dragged to police cars and even trucks and taken from the place.
Around 3:00 pm local time (7:00 pm GMT), mobile internet service was cut off and calls began to show instability, a digital “blackout” lasting several hours that made it difficult to know in real time what was happening on the island.
The president calls for combat
Miguel Díaz-Canel traveled to San Antonio de los Baños a few hours after that first protest was broadcast, and later appeared on state television urging his supporters to take to the streets ready for “combat.”
“The order to fight is given, to the streets the revolutionaries,” said the president, who described the demonstrations as “provocations of the counterrevolution” and added that he will not allow “anyone to defend an annexation plan.”
Díaz-Canel’s words were answered angrily by numerous Cubans on social networks, where they condemned the head of state urging a confrontation between civilians instead of calling for peace and dialogue.
After that call to the places of the protests, many on board state buses, citizen brigades came shouting slogans in favor of the Revolution such as “I am Fidel” or “Canel, my friend, the people are with you”, in addition to a strong device police and dozens of plainclothes officers.
It was then that clashes with anti-government protesters multiplied.
The events come after the “SOS Cuba” campaign has gained international visibility in recent days, launched by civil society on the networks due to the rampant crisis, the shortage of medicines and the critical situation due to the pandemic in the province of Matanzas.
Sources from various embassies in Havana, including those of the European Union and Spain, told Efe that they are closely following developments.
International organizations such as Amnesty International or Freedom House also echoed the protests in Cuba and called on the government to “respect the right to a peaceful assembly.”
A night curfew applies to most of the island due to the pandemic, so people who are on the street at night can be arrested for violating that measure.