Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel attacked “shameful delinquents” he claimed were trying to “break” his country’s communist revolution after testifying on a Caribbean island its biggest anti-government protests in almost three decades.
While Cuban officials blamed the United States for Sunday’s demonstrations, Joe Biden called on the island’s leaders to hear the “public call for freedom” of its citizens.
“The Cuban people are courageously affirming basic and universal rights,” Biden said in a statement.
In a televised address Monday morning Díaz-Canel, who recently succeeded Raúl Castro as the highest figure of the Communist Party, he painted the protests as part of a conspiracy backed by the United States and run by social networks, to provoke public discontent and overthrow the Cuban regime.
“The approach was not peaceful yesterday,” the 61-year-old politician claimed, criticizing the “completely vulgar” behavior of some protesters, whom he accused of throwing stones at the police and destroying cars. Díaz-Canel acknowledged that other protesters had legitimate concerns food shortages and energy shortages, although he was to blame for those problems US sanctions. “It is legitimate to feel dissatisfied,” the powerful first party secretary said on the show.
Rogelio Polanco Fuentes, the top party official who heads its ideology department, condemned the protests as part of a well-funded U.S.-sponsored effort to create “instability and chaos” in Cuba, which is currently experiencing its worst economic downturn in decades as a deterioration in Covid these crises.
Polanco Fuentes likened Sunday’s protests to a failed US-backed uprising against Venezuelan authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro in 2019. “We are experiencing new chapters of unconventional warfare … in other places that have been called these color revolutions … or mild coups,” Polanco said.
Cuban dissidents have dismissed those claims of protests that erupted across Cuba on Sunday, with thousands taking to the streets to condemn the lack of medicine and food and the lack of political freedoms.
By Sunday afternoon, demonstrations had reached one of Cuba’s most famous locations: the Malecón coast in the capital, Havana, where thousands of protesters were seen chanting “homeland and life” and “freedom.” The Malecón promenade was the site of the last significant street demonstrations in Cuba, a sudden and short-lived explosion of dissent in 1994 known as the “Maleconaz Uprising”.
“What is happening for us is absolutely historic … I think this is a point of no return. Things will not be the same after this, ”said Carolina Barrero, a 34-year-old activist from Havana. “We are talking about thousands and thousands and thousands of people, all over the island. There were protests in every town, [it was] completely spontaneous.
They shouted, ‘We have no more fear!’ ‘We want freedom!’ i ‘Down with dictatorship!“(Down with the dictatorship!),” Added Barrero, an art historian who said she was recently placed under house arrest after she was arrested while reading a poem in front of the Cuban Ministry of Culture.
Paul Hare, a former British ambassador to Havana, said Cuban leaders would be concerned about an extremely unusual eruption of disagreement, especially how it was organized with the help of social media. News of the protests spread quickly on Sunday, as celebrities and influential factors shared news of the marches using the hashtag #SOSCub.
“What the Cuban government has always feared is a coordinated movement, as opposed to sporadic protests … They see it as a possible genesis of an organized rival political movement,” Hare said.
The stubborn will say, “Watch out – this could get you out of control” … They will be worried [about the protests]. It is a sign that the Communist Party is no longer able to dictate vertically what the policy should be, ”Hare added.
Cuban activists said they were not impressed by Diaz-Canel’s initial response to their demands, especially his call on Sunday for “revolutionaries” to take to the streets to counter the protesters’ provocations “firmly and bravely.”
“What worries me the most is how they are trying to lay the groundwork for a wave of repression,” said Claudia Genlui Hidalgo, a 30-year-old dissident who saw several friends on Sunday. “When he says ‘revolutionaries on the street,’ he is inciting violence.”
Barrero said she hoped the protests would lead to a peaceful transition from one-party rule, but she was also upset by the possibility of conflict and Díaz-Canel’s description of the protests as “counter-revolutionary mercenaries”.
Hare predicted that there would now be a political crackdown on those identified as protest leaders as Communist Party security chiefs struggled to prevent a repeat.
World leaders reacted to Cuba’s unexpected convulsion Monday with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, saying he hoped a peaceful solution could be reached “without the use of force, without conflict and without violence”. “Cubans must decide [the solution] because Cuba is a free, independent and sovereign nation – there must be no interventionism, “added López Obrador.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesman also warned of “external interference” that sought to “encourage destabilization” of the communist island.