Thousands of Cubans have marched on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere to protest against 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 Sunday afternoon protest in the capital, which disrupted traffic until police moved in after several hours when a few protesters threw rocks.
Police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted “freedom”, “enough” and “unite”. One motorcyclist pulled out a US 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-aged 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 US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
An official in the Biden administration tweeted support for Sunday’s demonstrations. Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for state for western hemisphere affairs, tweeted: “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.”
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 teargas barrages. People standing on many balconies along the central artery in the Centro Habana neighbourhood applauded the protesters passing by. Others joined in the march.
Many people tried to take out their phones and broadcast the protest live, but Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon.
About two-and-a-half 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.
A group of government supporters also arrived in the area, shouting slogans in favour of the late president Fidel Castro and the revolution. Some of them assaulted a cameraman and an AP photographer.
Demonstrations were also held elsewhere on the island, including in the small town of San Antonio de los Banos, where people protested against 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 the “Cuban-American mafia” 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,” Díaz-Canel told reporters.