Protest erupts in eastern Cuba amid blackouts, food shortages

Protest erupts in eastern Cuba amid blackouts, food shortages
Protest erupts in eastern Cuba amid blackouts, food shortages

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - People buying fruits inside a market in Havana. Cuba has fallen into a near unprecedented economic crisis since the Covid-19 pandemic, with vast shortages of food, fuel and medicine. — Reuters pic

HAVANA, March 18 — Hundreds in Cuba’s second-largest city, Santiago, engaged in a rare public protest yesterday, according to social media and official reports, prompting Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel to call for dialogue in an “atmosphere of tranquillity and peace”.

Protesters in Santiago took to the streets with chants of “power and food”, according to videos posted on social media, as blackouts in places extended for 18 hours or more a day, jeopardising frozen food and ratcheting up tensions on the island.

Cuba has fallen into a near unprecedented economic crisis since the Covid-19 pandemic, with vast shortages of food, fuel and medicine stoking a record-breaking exodus that has seen upwards of 400,000 people migrate to the United States.

Diaz-Canel confirmed the Santiago protest on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, shortly after the rally concluded.


“Several people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the situation of electrical service and food distribution,” Diaz-Canel said. “The disposition of the authorities of the Party, the State and the Government is to attend to the complaints of our people, listen, dialogue, explain the numerous efforts that are being carried out to improve the situation, always in an atmosphere of tranquillity and peace.”

Diaz-Canel also said “terrorists” from the United States were seeking to foment further uprisings.

“This context will be taken advantage of by the enemies of the Revolution, for destabilising purposes,” Diaz-Canel said on X.


Police had arrived in Santiago to “control the situation” and to “prevent violence”, according to an account posted on social media by state-run CubaDebate.

It was not immediately clear whether anyone had been arrested during the protest.

Beatriz Johnson, a Santiago Communist Party official, said protesters in the eastern Cuban city had been “respectful” and had listened “attentively” to the government’s explanations of food and electricity shortages.

Videos on social media suggest the rally was peaceful.

The Cuban capital, Havana, and outlying neighbourhoods surveyed by Reuters appeared calm late into Sunday evening. Reuters could not immediately confirm the veracity of videos on social media of alleged protests in other Cuban cities.

The US embassy in Havana said it was monitoring the protests in Santiago and elsewhere.

“We urge the Cuban government to respect the human rights of the protesters and address the legitimate needs of the Cuban people,” the embassy said on X.

Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez blasted the US Embassy comments late on Sunday, blaming Cuba’s “acute economic situation” on the long-standing US trade embargo and sanctions.

“The US Government, especially its embassy in #Cuba, must refrain from interfering in the country’s internal affairs and inciting social disorder,” Rodriguez said on X.

Protests on the island are exceedingly rare but have cropped up more often in recent years as economic crisis rocks the country.

Although the Cuba’s 2019 constitution grants citizens the right to protest, a law more specifically defining that right is stalled in the legislature, leaving those who take to the street in legal limbo.

Rights groups, the European Union and the United States have critiqued Cuba’s response to anti-government protests more than two years earlier on July 11, 2021 — the largest since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution — as heavy-handed and repressive.

Cuba’s government said those jailed were guilty of assault, vandalism and sedition. — Reuters

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