Thousands of Cubans took to the streets in Havana and in other cities to demand vaccines and food on Sunday as the country faces a period of economic crisis brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
People criticized President Miguel Díaz-Canel, saying “down with the dictatorship,” according to the Miami Herald. In a speech addressing the country, Díaz-Canel blamed the United States for the unrest.
US President Joe Biden called on the Cuban government to “hear their people” in a statement released on Monday.
“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,” President Biden said in a statement. “The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recommended that the US government lift its embargo of Cuba as a “humanitarian gesture,” according to Reuters.
Shouting “Freedom” and other anti-government slogans, hundreds of Cubans took to the streets in cities around the country on Sunday to protest food and medicine shortages, in a remarkable eruption of discontent not seen in nearly 30 years.
In a country recognized for repressive crackdowns on dissent, the rallies were widely viewed as astonishing. Activists and analysts called it the first time that so many people had openly protested against the Communist government since the so-called Maleconazo uprising, which exploded in the summer of 1994 into a huge wave of Cubans leaving the country by sea.
In all cases, the crowd used strong language to refer to President Miguel Díaz-Canel, whose popularity is sharply falling as life in the island deteriorates. In an impromptu televised address later in the afternoon, Díaz-Canel blamed the protests on U.S. efforts to tighten the embargo, with the alleged intention to “‘provoke a social uprising’ that would justify a military intervention.”