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© Reuters. On July 11, 2021, during the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak outside the Capitol in Havana, Cuba, people gathered in protests and protests in support of the government. REUTERS/Stringer

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Author: Mark Frank and Sarah Marsh

Havana (Reuters)-Thousands of Cubans chanted “freedom” and called on President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down and participated in street protests from Havana to Santiago on Sunday. This is the Communist Party The largest anti-government demonstration in decades on the operating island.

As the protests broke out, Cuba experienced the worst economic crisis since the collapse of its former ally, the Soviet Union, and a record surge in coronavirus infections. People expressed anger at the shortage of basic goods, restrictions on civil liberties and the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.

Thousands of people gathered in downtown Havana and parts of the Corniche, and their calls for “Diaz-Canel to step down” overwhelmed groups of government supporters who waved the Cuban flag and chanted “Fidel”.

The capital of Havana can be seen everywhere in special forces jeeps with machine guns in the back. Even long after the protesters return home, the presence of police is very serious.

“We are going through very difficult times,” the 53-year-old dance teacher Miranda Lazara spontaneously joined the thousands of protesters marching in Havana. “We need to change the system.”

In a televised speech on Sunday afternoon, Diaz Canel, who is also the leader of the Communist Party, blamed the unrest on the United States, an old Cold War rival, which has tightened its decades-long trade embargo on the island in recent years.

Diaz-Canel said that many of the protesters were sincere but were manipulated by social media campaigns orchestrated by the United States and local “mercenaries”. He warned that no further “provocations” would be tolerated and appealed to supporters. Faced with such “provocations.”

Julie Zhong, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs of the US State Department, expressed deep concern about Cuba’s “combat appeal” and supports the Cuban people’s right to peaceful assembly. “

Witnesses to the Reuters protests in Havana saw security forces arresting about two dozen protesters with the help of suspected plainclothes officials. The police sprayed pepper spray and attacked some protesters and a photographer working for the Associated Press.

In an area of ​​Havana, protesters vented their anger at an empty police car, tipped it over, and threw stones at it. In other places, they chanted “repressors” to riot police.

Some protesters said they took to the streets to join after seeing what was happening on social media. Since the introduction of the mobile Internet two and a half years ago, social media has become an increasingly important factor, despite poor connectivity on Sunday.

National protest

This Caribbean island nation of 11 million inhabitants usually restricts public dissidents, but in the past year there have been more and more protests, albeit on such a scale or in so many cities at the same time.

Michael Bustamante, assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University, said the anti-government demonstration was the largest since the summer of 1994.

“It’s just now, they are not limited to the capital; they don’t even seem to start there,” he said.

The demonstrations broke out on Sunday in the city of San Antonio de los Banos in the province of Artemis that borders Havana. Videos on social media showed hundreds of residents chanting anti-government slogans, demanding everything from the coronavirus vaccine to ending daily power outages.

Claris Ramirez, a local resident, said on the phone: “I just walked across the town to buy some food. There were a lot of people there, some of them holding signs, protesting.” “They were protesting against the power outage. No drugs”.

President Diaz-Canel visited the town and later said in his radio speech: “We call on all revolutionaries and all communists in the country to march in the streets whenever anyone tries to create these provocations.”

Later on Sunday, protests took place in Palma Soriano, hundreds of miles (km) east of Santiago de Cuba. Social media videos showed hundreds of people marching in the streets. Local residents confirmed this again.

For the past two years, Cuba has been experiencing a worsening economic crisis. The government blamed it mainly on US sanctions and the pandemic, while its critics blamed incompetence and the Soviet-style one-party system.

The combined effects of sanctions, local inefficiencies, and the pandemic have caused tourism to shut down and slowed the flow of other foreign income in a country that relies on them to import most of its food, fuel, and agricultural and manufacturing inputs.

The economy contracted by 10.9% last year, and by June 2021 it contracted by 2%. The resulting cash crunch caused shortages, forcing Cubans to line up to buy basic goods throughout the pandemic.

Cuba has started a large-scale vaccination campaign. So far, 1.7 million of its 11.2 million residents have been vaccinated, and twice as many people have been vaccinated at least once during the three-shot vaccination process.

Despite this, the arrival of the Delta variant has prompted a surge in cases, with health authorities reporting a record 6,923 cases and 47 deaths on Sunday-double the number a week ago, and hospitals in the most affected provinces have been overwhelmed.



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