From the Miami Herald:
In an unprecedented display of anger and frustration, thousands of people took to the streets Sunday in cities and towns across Cuba, including Havana, to call for the end of the decades-old dictatorship and demand food and vaccines, as shortages of basic necessities have reached crisis proportions and COVID-19 cases have soared.
From the Malecón, Havana’s famous seawall near the old city, to small towns in Artemisa province and Palma Soriano, the second-largest city in Santiago de Cuba province, videos live-streamed on Facebook showed thousands of people walking and riding bikes and motorcycles along streets while chanting “Freedom!” “Down with Communism!” and “Patria y Vida” — Homeland and Life — which has become a battle cry among activists after a viral music video turned the revolutionary slogan “Homeland or Death” on its head.
“We are not afraid!” chanted Samantha Regalado while she recorded hundreds of people walking along a narrow street in Palma Soriano.
During the day, protests erupted in several cities, including the island’s biggest — Havana, Santiago, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Holguín — but also in smaller towns like Palma Soriano, Cárdenas, Colón, Guira de Melena, Artemisa and others. Inventario, a website specializing in Cuban data, tracked at least 25 protests in different locations throughout the island.
Images circulating on social media of angry crowds overturning police cars are unseen in a country where the communist government has kept a tight grip on the population for more than six decades.
Last time Cubans took to the streets to protest against the communist government was in 1994 and Fidel Castro was alive. But the uprising, known as the Maleconazo, only took place in Havana and didn’t last long, as the former Cuban leader quickly turned the demonstrations into a massive exodus after he opened Cuba’s maritime borders. Thousands of Cubans left the island in makeshift boats and rickety rafts, in what became known as the balsero crisis.
Video streamed on Facebook by Antonio Miguel Cobas Jalowayski around 1 p.m. in Palma Soriano showed hundreds of protesters calling for freedom and shouting, “Down with the dictatorship” and “Down with Díaz-Canel,” a reference to Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel. The protesters also demanded medicine, COVID vaccines and “the end of hunger.” A crowd is seen pushing a police car and shouting “the dictators just arrived,” in reference to the police. Later, one protester is heard saying, “This is a peaceful demonstration.”
Facebook user Carlos Alberto Ceballos Brito published a video around the same time showing a crowd gathering in Alquizar, a town in Artemisa province near Havana, also protesting against the government and chanting “Down with Diaz-Canel” and “Patria y Vida”. In several moments the crowd used strong language to refer to Díaz-Canel, whose popularity is sharply falling as life on the island deteriorates.
I’ll be watching the response of the Biden administration to these protests, mainly because the demonstrations in the streets of Havana and elsewhere will be monitored closely here in Miami by the Cuban community, as will President Biden’s response. In any case, the Cuban government will, as they always do, blame it on the U.S.
The protests sparked a Twitter war across the Straits of Florida. Cuban American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a sharp critic of the communist government, called on President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to ask “members of the Cuban military to not fire on their own people.”
“The incompetent communist party of #Cuba cannot feed or protect the people from the virus,” Rubio tweeted. “Now those in the military must defend the people not the communist party.”
Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted: “We are deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in #Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence.”
Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, head of U.S. affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said he warned the United States to refrain from igniting the situation.
“US State Department and its officials, involved to their necks in promoting social and political instability in #Cuba, should avoid expressing hypocritical concern for a situation they have been betting on,” he tweeted. “Cuba is and will continue to be a peaceful country, contrary to the US.”
Proving once again that the embargo has done nothing but provide the dictators with a convenient scapegoat. Lift the embargo and they’d have to take responsibility for their own actions. Then you’d see a real revolution.