Havana, Jul 11 (EFE).- Hundreds of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday to protest against the Havana government in the western town of San Antonio de los Baños shouting “Down with the dictatorship,” “Freedom” and “Homeland and life.”
The unprecedented demonstration, which was being joined by more protesters during the afternoon, was broadcast live by Facebook users and is taking place amid the serious economic and health crisis besetting the communist island, where the populace is dealing with a worrying lack of food, medicine and other basic products.
“The people started shouting. There are terrible blackouts, of six hours. This isn’t ending, and it’s every day. They started marching, very peacefully. The only thing they were doing was shouting. There were many young people,” a local woman told EFE via telephone observing the demonstration from inside a store.
There is a heavy police presence in San Antonio de los Baños, and members of the public complained that there have been acts of violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators, these reports being relayed to EFE from local residents from the town located 37 kilometers (23 miles) west of Havana.
In addition, EFE was able to verify the presence of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in the park beside the San Antonio Church, where he held a conversation with the group of government sympathizers.
Another source located in the area told EFE that Internet service for cellphones in the area had been cut off.
In Havana, calls have been circulating on the social networks for demonstrations at spots along the seaside Malecon avenue, and hundreds of demonstrators turned out on Sunday to shout anti-government slogans.
The protesters were intercepted by security forces and brigades of pro-government supporters, resulting in violent clashes and a number of arrests.
The clashes came at downtown Brotherhood Park in front of the capitol, where more than 1,000 people congregated amid a heavy deployment of soldiers and police, who began arresting the demonstrators.
However, several hundred of the protesters managed to evade the police cordon and headed en masse for the Paseo del Prado avenue leading to the Malecon, shouting slogans.
On Sunday afternoon about 20 young people also gathered – including playwright Yunior Aguilera – at the entrance to the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT), where they called for a protest shouting “Cuba is suffering!” and “Tell the truth and you can be our parents!” amid a heavy presence of state security agents.
In addition, the demonstrators asked the authorities to reestablish Internet service in Havana, which has been cut off for the moment.
On the social networks, videos have begun circulating from other places, including the eastern town of Palma Soriano, where hundreds of people have also taken to the streets chanting slogans like “No more lies” and “We’re not afraid.”
Also, similar protests have been reported in the towns of Guira de Melena and Alquizar, both in western Artemisa province, where San Antonio de los Baños is located.
This is the largest anti-government protest noted on the island since the so-called “maleconazo” on Havana’s Malecon, when in August 1994 hundreds of people took to the capital’s streets and did not stand down until then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro arrived to speak to them.
Meanwhile, Diaz-Canel urged government supporters to also turn out to “combat” the anti-government protesters.
“The order for combat is given. Revolutionaries to the streets,” the president said in a special television appearance.