Conflicts & War

Havana describes protests as ‘riots,’ attributes internet outage to crisis

Havana, Jul 13 (EFE).- Cuba’s foreign minister on Tuesday described the massive anti-government protests that took place two days ago as “riots,” and said that they were financed by the United States while attributing the mobile internet blackout throughout the island to the economic crisis the country is facing.

“The country is experiencing a complex situation these days. Our people’s access to information is a right. It is clear that there are complex conditions that are reflected not only in the right to information, they are reflected in the right to food. We are going through difficulties,” Bruno Rodríguez said at a press conference in Havana.

Shortly after protests began to spread across the country on Sunday amid a severe economic and health crisis, mobile internet service was disabled and still not working Tuesday.

The state-owned telecommunications company Etecsa has not given any explanation and neither had the government until Tuesday, when the foreign minister compared the shutdown to power outages and “evident difficulties” in food shortages and transport.

“These days there has been a lack of electricity that is also affecting the functioning of networks, nodes, servers and telecommunications,” he said, adding later that the country has an acute lack of medicines and data.

Cuban-American congresspeople and Cuban exiles asked US President Joe Biden on Monday to take the necessary action to restore the internet to the Cuban people, while the American embassy in Havana said on Twitter that it was not offering free WiFi but urged the government to restore all forms of connectivity.

Rodríguez also held Washington responsible for the protests that brought thousands of people into the streets in various cities and towns across Cuba on Sunday, demanding “freedom,” and called them “riots on a very limited-scale, unrest and vandalism,” denying that it was a “social uprising.”

He said the US has made use of data manipulation and of its “monopoly” of high-tech tools in a “large-scale communications operation” and of “disinformation” to discredit the Cuban government and to bring about a regime change.

“It is a political operation, an attack by the US government that nowadays does not need missiles and has great capacity for unconventional or virtual war,” he added.

The minister said that it takes “cynicism to ask us to listen to our people, who are victims of the US government’s policy,” and insisted that if Biden had “genuine concern” for Cubans, his signature would be enough to modify “major aspects” of the ongoing embargo, “including those that cause the most humanitarian damage.”

Days before the protests, activists and netizens launched an online campaign under the hashtag #SOSCuba to collect donations for regions worst hit by the health and coronavirus crisis, including the western Matanzas province.

The initiative went viral when celebrities began tweeting about it.

According to the minister, the campaign achieved an “artificial amplification” aided by the social media network Twitter, which he accused of not activating its “anti-spam” filters.

Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday to protest against the government, shouting “Freedom!” on an unprecedented day that resulted in dozens of arrests and clashes after Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel urged his supporters to confront the demonstrators.

The demonstrations came amid an acute economic and health crisis with an out-of-control coronavirus pandemic and a severe shortage of food, medicine and other basic commodities as well as long power outages.

The protests were the biggest to take place on the island since August 1994, when hundreds of people took to the street along Havana’s iconic seaside boulevard to protest amid the travails of the so-called “special period” after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s former main financial backer. EFE


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