Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday in the biggest and rare protests for decades against the island’s Communist government as the country undergoes a grave economic crisis aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and US sanctions.
Demonstrators complained about lack of freedom, food, medicine and the worsening economic situation and called for President Miguel Díaz-Canel to step down.
President Díaz-Canel did not offer the protesters any concessions in his nationally televised address saying US trade sanctions had created economic misery on the communist-run island. He added that the protests were a provocation by mercenaries hired by the US to destabilise the country.
US-Cuban relations are at their lowest point in years. The Trump administration enacted some of the toughest economic measures against Cuba in decades, and so far, the Biden administration has been quiet on the issue.
A faster coronavirus vaccination programme is demanded by the protesters after the Caribbean island nation of 11 million inhabitants reported a record of nearly 7,000 daily infections and 47 deaths on Sunday with the arrival of the Delta variant.
Cuba has begun a mass vaccination campaign with 1.7 million of its residents vaccinated to date.
Cuba’s largely state-controlled economy shrank by 11% in 2020 and 2% through June of 2021,its worst decline in almost three decades.
Tourism, one of the most important sectors in the struggling economy and sugar, another key earner for the nation steeply dropped by the restrictions on travel during the Covid pandemic.
All of these depleted the government’s reserves of foreign currency; it cannot buy imported goods to supplement shortages, as it would normally do.