Conflicts & War

Cuban president denies accusations of repression during weekend protests

Havana, Jul 12 (EFE).- Cuba’s president denied during a televised nationwide address on Monday morning that authorities had violently repressed a wave of anti-government protests the day before.

Miguel Diaz-Canel made his remarks despite the emergence of videos showing forceful police action and multiple allegations of arrests of demonstrators.

“They’ve already come out with (the idea that) in Cuba we repress, we kill (people). Where are the Cuban murderers? Where’s the Cuban repression? Where are the disappeared in Cuba?” the president said a day after exceedingly rare anti-government protests took place Sunday in different parts of the Communist-ruled island.

Videos disseminated on social media show police and security agents on Sunday violently confronting demonstrators, many of whom were injured. One of the videos shows a uniformed security agent opening fire with a handgun on the street.

Spanish-born Ramon Espinosa, a staff photographer for the Associated Press, also was among those injured by government supporters and required nasal reconstruction surgery.

An undetermined number of arrests were made during the protests, while on Monday opposition movements began compiling lists of demonstrators who are now missing after being detained.

An Efe team furthermore witnessed the arrest of a group of young people who were shoved into a vehicle and driven away after peacefully demonstrating outside the headquarters of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television.

Authorities are continuing to block Internet service via cellphone, a move that greatly restricts access to information since Wi-Fi connections are prohibitively expensive for most households.

In his speech, Diaz-Canel took specific aim at the Organization of American States after its secretary-general, Luis Almagro, denounced Cuba’s “dictatorial regime” for calling on civilian government supporters to confront demonstrators.

“Why aren’t they concerned about murders and disappeared persons in Latin America?” he said, accusing the OAS of having a double standard, spewing falsehoods and meddling in Cuba’s affairs.

Diaz-Canel said “US-hired mercenaries” had organized Sunday’s mass protests as part of a goal of “fracturing the unity” of the Cuban people, although he acknowledged that some “confused” Cuban citizens lacking information about the country’s problems had participated in the demonstrations.

The wave of protests began on Sunday in San Antonio de Los Baños (30 kilometers east of Havana) and later spread to other localities on the island, with thousands of Cubans shouting “freedom!”

The protests are regarded as the most defiant show of discontent with the island’s authorities since the August 1994 Maleconazo uprising.

The president said preparations for Monday’s address began several days ago with the goal of informing people about the situation in Cuba, which is suffering its worst period of the pandemic while facing an economic crisis characterized by food and medicine shortages and power cuts.

The energy minister, Livan Arronte Cruz, was among several top officials who accompanied Diaz-Canel and responded to questions from a group of journalists from state-run media outlets.

Authorities were asked about the lengthy blackouts, one of the triggers of Sunday’s protests and a problem that has been particularly acute in Cuba’s interior amid the stifling summer heat.

Diaz-Canel and Arronte Cruz attributed the power cuts to malfunctions at the island’s main thermoelectric plants and increased energy demand.

They assured Cubans that service will be restored on Tuesday.

US President Joe Biden for his part expressed support Monday for the Cuban people amid the outbreak of protests on the Caribbean island.

“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,” he said in a statement released by the White House.

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