Cuban government aggressively suppresses protests

Cuban officials response to protests: U.S. blockade to blame for ‘genocide’ during pandemic

MIAMI – The anti-government demonstrations to demand change in Cuba continue Monday. Protesters said the 62-year-old communist authoritarian political system’s inability to deal with the public health and economic crisis has resulted in lives lost. There is a shortage of food, medicines, and COVID-19 vaccines.

The #PatriaOVida political movement against communist and socialist propaganda promoted #SOSCuba. Social media users hoped the plea for help from different Cuban cities Sunday would reach the international community. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel responded Monday morning by saying the “Cuban-American mafia” had paid “influencers.”

Díaz-Canel didn’t mention Lebanese-American Sarah Joe Chamoun, better known as porn star Mia Khalifa, by name. He did say that it appeared like “a certain artist with certain characteristics” was “pressured” into saying that he was a tyrant. In tweets directed to his account, she hurled insulting expletives at him.

“This government is not afraid. We are full of energy, we are full of enthusiasm although it hurts ... It is hard what we are going through but we are convinced that we are going to face it and we are going to win,” Díaz-Canel said in Spanish.

Witnesses said Cuban police officers in civilian clothes were watching protesters. Some were armed with guns, baseball bats and rocks. Protesters said Cuban authorities also caused internet outages to prevent videos and photos of the historic protests from being distributed around the world.

Related story: Alleged witness asks Florida friend to let world know police brutality followed Havana protest

Opposition activists said COVID-19 patients are dying at home without treatment because hospitals are overwhelmed. During the news conference Monday, an official admitted to having challenges with hospital capacity. They report 6,750 coronavirus cases and 31 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic started.

Díaz-Canel said his administration was being honest and sat by as officials delivered reports to Cuban government media Monday. A Cuban economist said the island, just as many other countries around the world, was not prepared for the pandemic.

Others at the news conference said the pandemic worsened the effects of “the U.S. blockade.” The difficulties, Díaz-Canel said, came just as the island was feeling the effects of former President Donald Trump‘s sanctions. Some Cuban officials said during the news conference that enforcing the U.S. embargo during the pandemic is “genocide.”

A public health official touted scientists on the island developed several COVID vaccines including the three-shot Abdala. The Mambisa and the Soberanas vaccines remain under development and there is an ongoing study in Camaguey, a Cuban official said during the news conference.

Protesters in Havana didn’t share the Cuban government health officials’ pride. Witnesses’ videos show there were acts of vandalism against police during the historic demonstration of discontent. Protesters met in front of Cuba’s Communist Party headquarters where The Associated Press reported officers detained about 20 protesters.

Protesters who want democracy in Cuba said they want the freedom to elect a new government and put an end to the one-party system. In turn, government officials asked Cubans who support the communist revolution to go out to the streets and “fight.”

President Joe Biden released a statement Monday accusing Cuban officials of corruption.

“The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”

Related social media (Expletives in Spanish)

For more about the situation in Cuba, visit the Local 10 News’ “en español” page.

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.