Massive protests have erupted across Cuba as thousands have taken to the streets to march for “Liberty!”
Dozens of videos of the protests were quickly posted to social media platforms. By Monday morning, concerns were rising that the Cuban government may limit access to the internet in an attempt to prevent the protests from spreading, and keep the outside world in the dark.
By Monday afternoon, those fears were realized. During one of the protests, “many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, [but] Cuban authorities shut down internet service,” according to The Associated Press.
On Sunday, one video emerged of thousands of Cubans chanting “Libertad!” which is Spanish for “Liberty!”
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Protests even took place outside of Cuba’s National Capitol Building in the country’s capital city, Havana.
Photo from journalist Yusnaby Perez
Julie Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, wrote on Sunday that the Cuban people were marching because of the government’s failed response to COVID-19.
“Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages,” Chung wrote.
However, conservative radio host Ben Shapiro tweeted that he had personally spoken with leaders of Cuba’s dissident movement. “The mainstream media … line that this liberty movement is solely about lack of vaccines and US sanctions is a total lie. It is about the evil repression of a communist tyranny,” he wrote.
By Monday, the Biden administration’s position shifted after President Joe Biden issued a statement regarding the protests.
“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,” President Biden said.
“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. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”
Families in Cuba have suffered greatly over the past several decades of communist totalitarian government after Fidel Castro led the Cuban revolution of 1959. Castro proceeded to control the nation for another five decades until his death in 2008.
Following his death, Fidel’s brother, Raúl Castro, led the regime until his retirement in 2021. Miguel Días-Canel now serves as Cuba’s president (since 2019) and has served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba since Castro’s retirement.
Días-Canel on Monday blamed the United States for stoking the widespread protests in his country.
The United States has pursued a “policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country,” he said during a live television broadcast.
According to Human Rights Watch, in 2019, there were over 1,800 arbitrary detentions by the Cuban government which “continues to repress and punish dissent and public criticism.” The regime also holds 109 political prisoners.
The nation has also had a universal rationing system since just shortly following the Cuban revolution.
During a supply shortage in 2019, Cuban Commerce Minister Betsy Díaz announced at the time, “supermarkets will now restrict how much people can buy of certain products like chicken and soap, while other items – including rice, beans, eggs and sausage – will only be available on the ration card and limited to a monthly amount.”
And in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families worried about where their next meal would come from.
“We cannot choose. We buy whatever appears in the stores,” one resident, Caridad Piedra, told NBC News. “During the Special Period the only sure food we had was the small daily bread we would receive.”
In the United States, we can often take for granted the abundance of food and other products that other nations have a limited supply of. Indeed, until the run on toilet paper in early 2020, and the gas shortages experienced on the East Coast earlier this year, rationing was something many Americans have never had to deal with.
Yet, this is the norm in many other places around the globe.
Please be in prayer for the ongoing unrest in Cuba. Pray for the safety and protection of those protesting for liberty. And pray that those in positions of authority may choose to govern for good rather than evil.
You can follow this author on Parler @ZacharyMettler
Photo from Jesus Vargas/REUTERS