Friday, January 21, 2022

Thousands rally against Cuba govt, protest vaccine shortages

Cuba's president says the protests were a provocation by mercenaries hired by the US to destabilise the country.

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Thousands of Cubans have joined the biggest protests for decades against the island’s Communist government.

They marched in cities including the capital Havana, chanting, “Down with the dictatorship!”

In response, police used pepper spray and beat some of the demonstrators, reports the BBC.

Cubans have been angered by the collapse of the economy, as well as by restrictions on civil liberties and the authorities’ handling of the pandemic, with record infections in recent days.

The loudest chants came from protesters demanding a faster coronavirus vaccination programme.

Last year, Cuba’s state-controlled economy shrank by 11%, its worst decline in almost three decades, hard hit by the pandemic and US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

Thousands of pro-government supporters also took to the streets after President Miguel Díaz-Canel went on television to urge them to defend the revolution – referring to the 1959 uprising which ushered in decades of Communist rule and punishment by Washington.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel said the protests were a provocation by mercenaries hired by the US to destabilise the country, and promised a “revolutionary response”.

The top US diplomat for Latin America, Julie Chung, tweeted: “We are deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence.”

The anti-government protests began with a demonstration in the city of San Antonio de los Baños, southwest of Havana, but soon spread throughout the country.

Many of them were broadcast live on social networks, which showed marchers shouting slogans against the government and the president, and calling for change.

“This is the day: we can’t take it anymore. There is no food, there is no medicine, there is no freedom. They do not let us live. We are already tired,” one of the protesters, who gave his name only as Alejandro, told the BBC.

Images posted on social media showed what appear to be security forces detaining and beating some of the protesters.

Other posts showed people overturning police cars and looting state-owned shops which price their goods in foreign currencies. For many Cubans, these shops are the only way they can buy basic necessities but prices are sky high.

Protesters also voiced their anger over a shortage of vaccines, as the country reported a record of nearly 7,000 daily infections and 47 deaths on Sunday.

More than 1,500 Covid-related deaths have been reported since the start of the outbreak.

Some of the demonstrators sang Patria y Vida (“Fatherland and Life”), a rap and reggaeton hit. Its title plays on a slogan dating back to the 1950s, when the late Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries overthrew the government.

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