Cuba has entered its third day of intense civil turmoil following anti-government protests erupting across the country on Sunday, July 11.
CNN’s Patrick Oppmann and Al Goodman have reported that more than 100 individuals, including a number of reporters and civic leaders, have been arrested or are now missing. According to the state-run Radio Rebelde, at least one individual has also been killed following clashes with the country’s police.
On Sunday, Oppmann and Goodman reported that “CNN journalists witnessed multiple people being forcibly arrested and thrown in the back of vans at protests in Havana. Videos of the protest showed demonstrators turning over a police car and throwing rocks at officers.”
The cause for the protests is complex and includes several troubling recent developments within the nation, including rampant unemployment, frustration over ongoing and repeated power outages, a severe lack of food and medicine as a result of the country’s increasingly dire response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Trump-era economic sanctions against the country and its tourism industry in particular, which have had a brutal impact on Cuba’s economy.
Together, these factors have caused the public to turn against the government in record numbers, triggering what many experts have called the largest anti-government protests seen on the island nation in decades.
Oppmann and Goodman reported that “in San Antonio de los Banos, a city of about 46,000 people to the west of Havana, hundreds of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday, fed up after nearly a week of electricity cuts during the sweltering July heat.”
“Everyone was in the streets,” one protestor told CNN. “They have gone six days with only 12 hours of power each day. That was one of the things that blew this up.”
In an address to the country over the weekend, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said the U.S. was to blame for the turmoil, blaming the poor economy on U.S. trade sanctions against the communist country.
According to Oppmann and Goodman, “Díaz-Canel also urged his supporters to physically confront the protestors. ‘The order to combat has been given,’ he said at the end of his appearance. ‘Revolutionaries need to be on the streets.’”
In a subsequent speech on Monday, July 12, Díaz-Canel continued his assault on protestors, calling them criminals and demanding his supporters take action against them, calling the assault against police and property “a behavior that’s completely vulgar, completely indecent.”
Following that address, Gizmodo’s Brianna Provenzano reported that the Cuban government began blocking most social media and internet access on the island to prevent protestors from sharing news updates or letting people outside the country know what was going on there.
“Beginning on Monday, NetBlocks, an organization that tracks and reports internet access, confirmed that messaging and social media apps, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram, had all been at least partially restricted on the island, with some access in Havana lacking access to mobile data entirely,” Provenzano reported. “The sudden social media crackdown is likely a ploy by the government to disrupt communications as protests — already a rare occurrence for a country like Cuba, where dissident [activity] is closely monitored and controlled — continue to rage on the island.”
Back in the U.S., President Biden has warned the Cuban government not to crack down on its population, fearing additional deaths and severe human rights abuses that might occur.
“The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime. And I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this protest in a long, long time — if, quite frankly, ever,” Biden told reporters.
“The United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights,” he said. “We call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempts to silence the voice of the people of Cuba.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated Biden’s concerns, calling for Cuban officials to show restraint and stop the country’s internet blackout.
“In Miami, the center of the Cuban exile community in the United States, protesters have taken to the streets in support of the anti-government demonstrators,” Oppmann and Goodman reported. “On Tuesday, parts of the Palmetto Expressway were shut down by protesters, according to Lt. Alex Camacho of the Florida Highway Patrol.”
U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken also pushed back against Cuba’s claims that the U.S. had anything to do with the ongoing revolt from its citizens, saying instead that the nation’s leaders needed to look at their own actions and decisions that contributed to the uprising.
“It would be a grievous mistake for the Cuban regime to interpret what is happening in dozens of towns and cities across the island as the result or product of anything the United States has done,” Blinken said. “That is what we are hearing and seeing in Cuba, and that is a reflection of the Cuban people, not of the United States or any other outside actor.”