Thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday in different parts of Cuba to demand an end to the dictatorship. Singing “Freedom”, “Down with Communism”, “Homeland and Life”, “We want vaccines”.
In an unprecedented display of anger and frustration, thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday in cities and towns across Cuba, including Havana, to call for an end to the decades-long dictatorship and demand for food and vaccines.
During the day, protests erupted in several cities, including the largest on the island – Havana, Santiago, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, and Holguín – but also in smaller cities 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 on the island.
Images circulating on social media of angry mobs tearing down police cars are not seen in a country where the communist government has maintained tight control over the population for more than six decades.
Videos streamed live on Facebook showed thousands of people walking and riding bicycles and motorcycles along streets while shouting “Freedom!” “Communism down!” and “Patria y Vida”.
Protesters also demanded medicine, COVID vaccines, and “the end of hunger”. A crowd is seen pushing a police car and shouting “The dictators have just arrived” in reference to the police. Later, a protester is heard saying, “This is a peaceful demonstration.”
The crowd, at times, also used strong language to refer to Díaz-Canel, whose popularity is dropping dramatically as life on the island deteriorates.
The 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, took place only in Havana and did not last long as the former Cuban leader quickly turned the demonstrations into a massive exodus after opening Cuba’s maritime borders. Thousands of Cubans left the island in makeshift boats and rickety rafts, in what became known as the balsero crisis.
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In an improvised speech on television later in the afternoon, Díaz-Canel blamed the protests on US efforts to tighten the embargo, with the purported intention of “provoking a social uprising” that would justify military intervention.
Visibly upset and raising his voice, the Cuban leader warned that the protesters would have a strong response and called “all revolutionaries” to face them in the streets “with firmness and courage”.
“We are not going to hand over the sovereignty or independence of the people,” he said. “There are many revolutionaries in this country who are willing to give our lives, we are willing to do anything and we will be on the streets fighting.”
While Cuban officials this week said the country is open to donations, historically the government has refused or seized humanitarian aid from Cuban exiles.
In a separate video posted on Facebook on Sunday, activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara urged Cubans to head to the Malecón to protest the island’s authoritarian regime.
“I’m going to the street, I’m going to the Malecón, whatever it takes,” he said.
Otero Alcántara went on a hunger strike earlier this year to draw international attention to the increased repression of artists and activists, which has intensified calls for more civil liberties. He was forcibly removed from his home and hospitalized.
AP photographer Ramon Espinosa is arrested by Communist police while covering a demonstration against Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana on July 11, 2021. – Thousands of Cubans participated in rare protests on Sunday against the Communist government, marching for a city screaming “Down with the dictatorship” and “We want freedom”.
In Havana, about 300 people close to the government gathered near the capitol building, chanting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and Díaz-Canel. Some in the group assaulted an Associated Press cameraman, disabling his camera, while an AP photographer was injured by police, according to the AP.
On Twitter, Cuban Chancellor Bruno Rodríguez suggested that the protests were orchestrated by the United States.
“President @DiazCanelB is in San Antonio de Los Baños with the revolutionary people who are mobilizing against the imperialist campaign and its salaried agents,” he wrote. “We are grateful for the international solidarity and support of Cubans living abroad #EliminatetheBlockade.”
But as news of the protests across the country spread on social media — despite government reports shutting down internet access — Cubans in the capital also went to the Malecón to demand an end to the regime.
Videos posted around 3 pm on Facebook showed a crowd shouting “Patria y Vida”. Cuban journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa reported that police were detaining protesters gathered on 23rd and L streets in the heart of the city of Havana.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio said he will ask President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to urge the Cuban military to support the Cuban people.
“The incompetent #Cuba communist party cannot feed or protect people from the virus,” he tweeted.
In a video posted by the Miami Police Department, officers could be seen standing with protesters while shouting “Libertad!”
“The area is being protected by @MiamiPD in support of a demonstration and to ensure the safety of all participants,” the department said in a tweet.
“Please avoid the area and definitely while we continue monitoring.
Protesters held flags and posters that read “SOS Cuba”. Many stopped in traffic to sing the notes of the Cuban national anthem.
“Freedom” and “Homeland and Life”, groups shouted in unison. Several people cried.
“It was time for people to go out into the street. The poverty and hunger in Cuba must end, the repression and the mistreatment of the people must end”, said Yoselin Castro, who was among the crowd in Versailles. “For many years we have lived in poverty and in great need. It was time to wake up,” said Ronald Rodríguez, who also appeared in front of the renowned Cuban restaurant.
US Republican Representative Maria Elvira Salazar of Miami and Republican State Senator Ileana Garcia echoed their comments and called on the Biden government to intervene by tightening the embargo against the regime, but also by sending humanitarian aid
The photos show police officers using pepper spray and beating protesters.
Cubans are irritated by the collapse of the economy, food shortages, and high prices, as well as restrictions on civil liberties by the communist regime.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez led demonstrations in Florida, which has the largest Cuban population in the United States and urged President Biden’s government to intervene.
He tweeted: “The Cuban regime’s military police are shooting at unarmed Cuban demonstrators fighting for freedom. Sixty years of communism, cruelty, and oppression cannot last any longer.
Politicians, artists, and influential people around the world are being asked to speak out in favor of Cuban freedom.