Cubans stage rare protests amid blackouts, persisting economic crisis | Protests News

President points finger at US after hundreds of people demonstrate against food shortages and blackouts.

Rare protests have taken place in Cuba as the island nation’s economic crisis persists.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel called for calm on Monday after hundreds of people gathered in Santiago, Cuba’s second largest city, to demonstrate against power blackouts and food shortages a day prior.

Social media videos showed crowds in the communist-governed country chanting, “Power and food.”

Diaz-Canel blamed the United States for provoking the unrest, and his government summoned the US’s top diplomat to Cuba for meeting on Monday.

A wave of blackouts in Cuba has recently seen power supplies cut for up to 18 hours or more in a day. That, in turn, has jeopardised food supplies and economic activity in the cash-strapped country.

Cuba is battling its worst economic crisis in decades, caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the flow of much-needed tourism dollars plunge. Its economy has also long been stymied by US trade embargoes and recent sanctions imposed during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Diaz-Canel called for dialogue and “peace”.

“Several people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the situation of electrical service and food distribution,” he wrote on X.

“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 tranquility and peace,” he added.

The president blamed government “enemies” and “mediocre politicians and terrorists” in the US for trying to hijack the protests. Vedant Patel, a US State Department spokesperson, vigorously denied those allegations in a press conference on Monday.

“The United States is not behind these protests in Cuba and the accusation of that is absurd,” Patel said.

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Havana said in a post on X that it had received reports of protests in Bayamo, Granma and other locations. It urged the government “to respect the human rights of the protesters and address the legitimate needs of the Cuban people”.

The protests in Santiago were peaceful as demonstrators shouted, “Down with communism. Down with Diaz-Canal.” Videos on social media showed no signs of scuffles or arrests. A large number of state security forces were also in attendance.

However, internet services were down late on Sunday until early Monday, according to some reports.

Havana cracked down heavily on large protests in July 2021, the widest demonstrations seen in Cuba since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. The response was criticised by the international community.

Since 1960, the US has maintained an economic embargo on Cuba, which restricts trade between the countries.

For the first time, Cuba turned to the UN’s World Food Programme in February, requesting help in supplying milk to children, the organisation said.

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