Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday to protest a lack of food and medicine as the country undergoes a grave economic crisis aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and US sanctions. Demonstrators complained about a lack of freedom and the worsening economic situation during the rare protests in the capital city of Havana and in multiple cities throughout the small, Communist-run island.
Many chanted for “freedom” and called for Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel to step down.
Local police used tear gas to break up some demonstrations and made multiple arrests. In Havana, demonstrators were being forcibly arrested and thrown into the back of vans by police officers. There were also violent clashes, where protesters turned over a police car and threw rocks at officers.
In a nationally televised address, President Díaz-Canel said US trade sanctions had created economic misery on the communist-run island. Instead of resigning in his speech, he instead urged his supporters to physically confront them. “The order to combat has been given,” he said at the end of his appearance, “Revolutionaries need to be on the streets.”
It’s time. After more than six decades of tyranny & communism, thousands of Cubans risk everything in protest to demand end to dictatorship #cubalibre #humanrights #democracy #sosCUBA #freeCUBA https://t.co/D2R2vwFf3o
— Daisy Fuentes Marx (@DaisyFuentes) July 11, 2021
Videos uploaded to social media showed how the spontaneous protest movement has gained momentum, with streams appearing of other protests in a handful of cities and towns across the island. For example, in the city of San Antonio de los Baños, just outside Havana province, hundreds of people defied a heavy police presence to air their complaints. In some of the videos, people shouted they “weren’t afraid” or that they wanted liberty or access to coronavirus vaccines.
This is a pretty remarkable stance from DSA towards Cuba pic.twitter.com/m6BWKqfths
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) July 12, 2021
President Díaz-Canel made an unplanned stop in San Antonio de los Baños on Sunday after police had cleared protesters, while Cuban government officials blamed the protests on “salaried agents” on Twitter. He once again criticized the protests on Monday, calling demonstrators vandals who “broke into the stores and stole [many] items.” He reiterated that US sanctions were the cause of Cuba’s ailing economy.
I would love to see democracy come to Cuba… And remain in the United States.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) July 12, 2021
In response on Monday, President Joe Biden expressed support for the Cuban people, calling on the Diàz-Canel government to “hear their people and serve their needs.”
“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” Biden said in a statement.