Protesters complained about the lack of freedom and the deteriorating economic situation during the rare protests, according to people who spoke to CNN and videos from several cities, including the capital Havana.
Many chanted “freedom” and called on President Miguel Díaz-Canel to resign.
Several protesters were arrested by police, who used tear gas to disperse some protests. In Havana, a CNN crew saw protesters being forcibly arrested and thrown into the backs of vans by police. There were also violent clashes, where protesters overturned a police car and threw stones at police officers.
In a nationally televised address, President Díaz-Canel said US trade sanctions had created economic misery on the Communist-ruled island.
Díaz-Canel made no concessions to the protesters in his speech, but instead urged his supporters to face them physically. “The order to fight is given”, he declared at the end of his appearance, “the revolutionaries must be in the streets”.
In the town of San Antonio de los Baños, just outside the province of Havana, hundreds of people challenged a heavy police presence to voice their complaints.
A resident who did not wish to be identified told CNN that residents had been experiencing power outages for a week and that this had “sparked” growing outrage.
Social media platforms are restricted in Cuba, according to internet monitor NetBlocks.
NetBlocks tweeted Monday that “Social media and messaging platforms were restricted to #Cuba as of Monday on public internet provider ETECSA; real-time network data corroborates reports of internet disruption amid growing anti-government protests; ongoing incident #CubaSOS. “
The NetBlocks website said its measurements showed WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and some Telegram servers were disrupted.
Videos uploaded to social media showed how the spontaneous protest movement gained momentum, with streams of other protests appearing in a handful of towns and villages on the island.
In some of the videos, people shouted that they “weren’t afraid” or wanted freedom or access to coronavirus vaccines.
On Monday, US President Joe Biden expressed his support for the Cuban people, calling on the Diàz-Canel government to “listen to its people and respond to their needs”.
“We stand by the Cuban people and their clear call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and the decades of repression and economic suffering to which it has been subjected by the authoritarian regime in Cuba,” he said. Biden said in a statement.
President Diàz-Canel criticized the protests, calling the protesters vandals who “broke into stores and stole [many] articles. He reiterated that the US sanctions were the cause of the weakness of the Cuban economy.
The already struggling Cuban economy has been hit hard, as tourism and good imports fell sharply during the pandemic.
Calls for restraint
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tweeted his support for the Cuban people on Sunday evening, saying: “The United States supports freedom of speech and assembly across Cuba and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting. peaceful demonstrators exercising their universal rights ”.
Other US officials have also called for restraint, saying Cubans have the right to protest. “We are deeply concerned about the ‘calls to fight’ in #Cuba. We defend the right of the Cuban people to assemble peacefully. We call for calm and condemn all violence,” Julie Chung, acting deputy secretary of the Bureau of the West of the State Department. Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted Sunday.
“For decades, the Cuban dictatorship has used violence and repression to silence its people, rather than allow the free exercise of democracy and their basic social rights,” said the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, Bob Menendez, in a statement.
“It must stop. The eyes of the world are on Cuba tonight and the dictatorship must understand that we will not tolerate the use of brute force to silence the aspirations of the Cuban people,” he added.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez criticized Sullivan’s statement on Monday, saying he had “no political or mortal authority to talk about Cuba.”
“His government has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to promote subversion in our country and is implementing a genocidal blockade, which is the main cause of economic shortages,” Rodriguez added in a tweet.