Thousands of Cubans took part in protests around the country Sunday, demonstrating against food and medicine shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic in what has been said to be the biggest anti-government protest in 30 years.
Protestors, many of them young people, chanted “We want freedom” and “We want vaccines” as they marched on Havana, the island’s capital. Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, exacerbated by a surge in coronavirus cases coupled with a low vaccination rate.
“We are fed up with the queues, the shortage. That’s why I’m here,” one middle-age protester told The Associated Press. He declined to identify himself for fear of being arrested later.
Outside of Havana, hundreds of people marched through cities like San Antonio de los Baños and Palma Soriano, and throughout the province of Artemisa. Protests even extended as far as the U.S. in Miami, which has a sizeable Cuban and Cuban-American population.
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Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protests live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon. Officers also charged protesters, barraging them with tear gas and arresting some.
“As if pandemic outbreaks had not existed all over the world, the Cuban-American mafia, paying very well on social networks to influencers and YouTubers, has created a whole campaign … and has called for demonstrations across the country,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel told reporters.
In an impromptu televised address, he blamed the protests on U.S. efforts to provoke a social uprising by tightening the embargo and warned that protesters would face a strong response. “We are not going to hand over the sovereignty or the independence of the people,” he said, reported the Miami Herald.
In Miami, Mayor Francis Suarez said at a news conference Sunday that “Cubans are worthy and ready to rule themselves without tyranny.” “It can end today and it must end today,” he said, reported NBC-6. “The implications of this moment can mean freedom for millions of people in the hemisphere, from Nicaraguans and Venezuelans and so many more.”