Thousands protest in Cuba over food shortages and high prices

Havana — Thousands of Cubans marched on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere on the island Sunday to protest food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus crisis, in one of biggest anti-government demonstrations in memory. Many young people took part in the afternoon protest in the capital, which disrupted traffic until police moved in after several hours and broke up the march when a few protesters threw rocks.

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A man is arrested during a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, July 11, 2021. YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty

Police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted “Freedom,” “Enough” and “Unite.” One motorcyclist pulled out a U.S. flag, but it was snatched from him by others.

“We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. 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.
 
Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as it suffers the consequences of U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
 
An official in the Biden administration tweeted support for Sunday’s demonstrations.

“Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need,” tweeted Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for state for Western Hemisphere affairs. 

In a subsequent tweet, Chung said the U.S. was “deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in #Cuba.” She reiterated the American government’s support for the Cuban people’s right to protest peacefully, and added: “We call for calm and condemn any violence.”  
 
Cuba’s director general for U.S. affairs, Carlos F. de Cossio, dismissed her remarks in his own tweet: “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. Cuba is and will continue to be a peaceful country, contrary to the US.”

The demonstration grew to a few thousand in the vicinity of Galeano Avenue and the marchers pressed on despite a few charges by police officers and tear gas barrages. People standing on many balconies along the central artery in the Centro Habana neighborhood applauded the protesters passing by. Others joined in the march.
 
Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon.
 
About 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed.

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A man is arrested during a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, on July 11, 2021. ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty

AP journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in civilian clothes.

“The people came out to express themselves freely, and they are repressing and beating them,” Rev. Jorge Luis Gil, a Roman Catholic priest, said while standing at a street corner in Centro Habana.

About 300 people close to the government then arrived with a large Cuban flag shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Some people from the group assaulted an AP cameraman, disabling his camera, while an AP photographer was injured by the police.

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AP photographer Ramon Espinosa is seen with injuries to his face while covering a demonstration against Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, Cuba, July 11, 2021. ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty

Demonstrations were also held elsewhere on the island, including the small town of San Antonio de los Banos, where people protested power outages and were visited by President Miguel Díaz-Canel. He entered a few homes, where he took questions from residents.

Afterward, though, he accused Cuban Americans of stirring up trouble.
 
“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,” Diaz-Canel told reporters.

Many Cubans were left disappointed last month when the Biden administration declined an opportunity to reverse the harsher policy instituted against their nation by former President Donald Trump. The Biden White House has not lifted a flurry of additional sanctions imposed by Mr. Trump on Cuba right before he left office, and the U.S. stood almost alone on June 23 in voting against a United Nations resolution condemning Washington’s six-decade embargo on the island.

As CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum reported, many Cubans — including doctors and nurses who say their ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic has been hamstrung by American sanctions — had hoped to see the Biden administration abstain from the U.N. vote, as the Obama administration did in 2016. Instead, the U.S. voted “No” again, as it did under former President Trump. 

In total, 184 nations voted in favor of the resolution condemning the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The same resolution has passed easily every year since it first came up in 1992.