The United States stands with the people of Cuba in their call for freedom and relief from the coronavirus pandemic and decades of repression, President Joe Biden said on Monday.
Thousands of Cubans joined street protests from Havana to Santiago on Sunday in the biggest anti-government demonstrations on the Communist-run island in decades. They chanted “freedom” and called for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down.
“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,” Biden said in a statement.
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The protests erupted amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, its old ally, and more recently a record surge in coronavirus infections, with people denouncing shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.
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“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,” Biden said.
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“The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
Cuba blames crisis on U.S. sanctions, pandemic
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Monday blamed U.S. sanctions, tightened in recent years, for the medicine shortages, power outages and other economic shortcomings that fueled unusual protests this weekend.
Appearing alongside his Cabinet in a televised address, he also blamed a social media campaign for weaponizing the shortages against what he called Communist-run Cuba’s revolution.
Diaz-Canel denounced vandalism across various cities on Sunday in Cuba’s biggest anti-government demonstrations in decades.
“They threw stones at foreign currency shops, they stole items … and at police forces, they turned over cars – a totally vulgar, indecent and delinquent behavior,” he said.
The government blames the crisis on U.S. sanctions and the pandemic, while its detractors cite incompetence and a Soviet-style one-party system.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, and Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Mark Heinrich and Howard Goller)