By Mychael Schnell
Thousands of Cubans took to the street Sunday in one of the largest anti-government demonstrations in memory.
The Associated Press reported that the march, which took place on Havana’s Malecon promenade and other areas on the island, was to protest food shortages and high prices sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities at first followed protesters as they chanted “Freedom,” “Enough” and “Unite,” according to the AP. One person on a motorcycle reportedly displayed a U.S. flag, but it was taken from him by others.
One middle-aged protester told the wire service “We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. That’s why I’m here.”
The protest, in which a number of young people participated, disturbed traffic Sunday afternoon, the AP reported.
Police became involved hours later and attempted to break up the demonstration after protesters threw rocks.
Cuba is experiencing its most difficult economic crisis in decades, in addition to a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, as the country grapples with the U.S. sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration.
People tried to record the protests on their cellphones and broadcast the demonstrations live, but Cuban authorities reportedly disabled internet service in the afternoon, the AP reported.
Approximately 300 people close to the government reportedly arrived at the demonstration with a Cuban flag and yelled slogans in support of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution, the wire service reported.
Some members of that group reportedly attacked a cameraman with the AP, while an AP photographer was reportedly injured by police.
Demonstrations also broke out in Miami Sunday, thousands of people in the Little Havana neighborhood gathering in solidarity with the Cubans.
Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, expressed support for the “peaceful protests” in Cuba, writing “We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need.”
Carlos F. de Cossio, Cuba’s director general for U.S. affairs, however, slammed the State Department and its officials for “promoting social and political instability in #Cuba.”
He said they should “avoid expressing hypocritical concern for a situation they have been betting on. Cuba is and will continue to be a peaceful country, contrary to the US.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed support for the demonstrations in Cuba, writing in a statement “Let us hear their voices. Listen to their cries of desperation. Support their demands by ensuring we do not perpetuate the regime’s decades of repression.”
He called the day of protests “historic,” and said Cubans were “bravely joining to demand nothing more than the ability to live safely and speak their minds, freely, openly, and without fear.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also voiced support for the Cubans protesting, saying in a video statement posted on Twitter that the U.S. should help spread the images and words coming out of Cuba, ensure that their message isn’t lost and “that the true nature of this barbaric regime is exposed, especially for those who still hold out fantasies and illusions about what the true nature of this regime is.”
“And to the people who are out there protesting I want them to know your voice has already been heard, that those of us who live here in freedom, we have tried to take your messages on social media across the worldwide web and make sure that everyone hears your voice, sees your suffering, and understands what’s happening,” Rubio continued.
“We’re with you in spirit, and we hope to be with you in action. We’re going to do everything we can,” he concluded.
By Mychael Schnell