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Protests in Cuba

Thousands of Cubans took part in the largest protest against the island’s communist government in decades.

They marched through cities, including the capital Havana, chanting “Down with the dictatorship!”.

Pictures posted on social media showed security forces arresting and beating some of the demonstrators.

Cubans are angry about the collapse of the economy, as well as restrictions on civil liberties and the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.

The protesters are demanding an accelerated vaccination program against the coronavirus after Cuba reported a record of nearly 7,000 daily infections and 47 deaths on Sunday.

Cuba’s largely state-controlled economy shrank 11 percent last year, the worst recession in nearly three decades. The pandemic and WE sanctions hit it hard.

Thousands of government supporters also took to the streets after the president called on them on television to defend the revolution – a reference to the 1959 uprising that ushered in decades of communist rule.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the protests were a provocation by mercenaries hired by the United States to destabilize the country.

In a televised address, he said, “The order to fight is given: Take to the streets, revolutionaries!”.

Julie Chung, the top US diplomat for Latin American affairs, tweeted.” We are deeply concerned about Cuba’s ‘call to arms’.”

The White House said it stood with the Cuban people and called on those government officials to “listen to their people and attend to their needs” rather than themselves.

“The Cuban people are courageously demanding basic, universal rights,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

No freedom

The anti-government protests began with demonstrations in the town of San Antonio de los Baños, southwest of Havana, but quickly spread across the country.

Many were stream live on social media and featured demonstrators chanting slogans against the government and the president and demanding change.

“Today is the day. We can’t take it anymore. No food, no medicine, no freedom. They will not let us live. We are fed up.” One of the protesters, who gave only his name, told the BBC.

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Postings on social media showed people pushing police cars and looting several state-owned shops whose prices were in foreign currency. For many Cubans, these shops are the only way to buy necessities, but prices are high.

Analysis – Protests demonstrate growing outrage

By Vanessa, Latin America and Caribbean Editor, BBC News Online

While the crowd of protesters may not look particularly large, the significance of the thousands of Cubans taking to the streets across the country cannot be overstated.

Chanting “Freedom!” and “Down with Communism!” may be considered moderate in other parts of the world, but on an island so tightly controlled by the Communist Party, it can easily land you in jail.

The fact that people dared to do this in the city because they could be easily identified by the communist authorities is an indication of the level of anger about these protests.

With images of the protesters streamed live on social media, the government is finding it difficult to hide the evidence of discontent.

A video uploaded by the Cuban foreign minister showing government loyalists marching and chanting, “these streets belong to Fidel [Castro, the late leader of the Cuban revolution]” was quickly debunked by government critics who shared images of the protests.

Cuba’s economy is in trouble. Tourism, one of the most important sectors, has severely affected by the travel restrictions imposed during the Covidien pandemic.

Sugar, mainly for export, is another important source of income for Cuba. However, this year’s harvest has been much worse than expected.

Cuba’s sugar monopoly Azcuba said the shortages were due to several factors, including fuel shortages and machinery breakdowns that hampered the harvest, as well as natural factors such as humidity in the fields.

As a result, the government’s foreign exchange reserves have been depleted, meaning it cannot buy imported goods to make up for the shortages as it normally does.

The queue to buy food has grown. In addition, power cuts have caused blackouts for several hours a day.

Some demonstrators sang Patria y Vida, a rap and reggae ton song. The title comes from a slogan – Patria o Muerte – that dates back to the 1950s when the late Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries overthrew the government.

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