Anti-government protests erupted in Cuba this week over lack of access to food and basic health care amid a surge in COVID cases.
The country has suffered from massive inflation and prolonged blackouts as longstanding U.S. sanctions restricting access to basic goods and finance, as well as decades of government corruption and mismanagement, were exacerbated by a decline in tourism during the pandemic.
The protests began on Sunday and have quickly spread across the country as thousands of Cubans are frustrated by hunger and basic services shortages. “Our children are dying of hunger,” shouted a protester in a video posted on Facebook. Another video on Twitter appeared to show protesters calling for “change the system”.
The protests are the largest in the recent past, and government forces, who are usually quick to suppress demonstrations, have struggled to maintain control at first. Some musicians who were suppressed along with artists for their statements also made statements in support of the demonstrators.
Intermittent Internet shutdowns and harassment and detention of journalists made it difficult to review what was happening on the ground; However, photos and videos have emerged showing both uniformed and civilian officers beating protesters with batons and appearing to shoot them. At least one person was killed and Amnesty International said at least 150 others have been reported missing and may have been arrested.
While the government appears to have softened its stance a bit and lifted a tax on imports of goods to the island, that may not be enough to quell the protests. “No, we don’t want crumbs. We want freedom. No blood has flowed on the Cuban streets to import a few more suitcases, ”tweeted blogger and government critic Yoaní Sánchez.