By Lorena Canto
Havana, Jul 12 (EFE).- Cubans woke on Monday to a tense calm, with no Internet service for mobile devices and a heavy police presence on the streets of Havana a day after thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest against the government amid an acute economic and health crisis.
The data “blackout” is making it difficult to know for certain what is happening around the country, but by 3 pm no new demonstrations had been reported and no images of protests had hit the social networks.
Thus, the main known occurrence of the day was when dozens of women gathered before police stations in Havana like the one at Zanja Street to inquire as to the whereabouts of their husbands, sons and other loved ones who either were arrested or disappeared during the protests on Sunday.
At present, there is no official tally of the arrests, since the authorities have provided no information on the protests, but local activists have prepared a preliminary list on which 65 names appear, representing people apparently arrested in Havana alone.
On that list are people well known for their active opposition to the government including artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, moderate dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua and playwright Yunior Garcia Aguilera, while the family of opposition figure Jose Daniel Ferrer also have complained that he is missing in Santiago de Cuba.
Several of the women who came to the Zanja station told EFE that their husbands, sons and at least one father-in-law had been beaten by security forces and/or police before being taken away to an unknown destination.
These statements, along with videos that circulated on the social networks showing violent repression of the protests by the Cuban police and plainclothes security agents, contrast with the version being put forth by the Miguel Diaz-Canel government, which on Monday denied on state television that any such activities had taken place.
“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 the exceedingly rare anti-government protests took place Sunday in different parts of the Communist-ruled island.
Surrounded by some of his Cabinet ministers and top officials within the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, the communist island’s only legal political party, Diaz-Canel appeared for several hours on national television to speak about the country’s problems and also to refer to the weekend protests.
The president once again blamed the United States for being behind the demonstrations and the embargo that Washington has maintained against Cuba for six decades for the bulk of the economic problems besetting the island.
He accused “mercenaries in the pay of the US” of orchestrating the protests and lambasted the Organization of American States, although he also admitted that “confused” citizens had participated in the protests because of “lack of information” about the problems the country is facing.
Those problems can be summed up as a delicate economic situation, extreme scarcity of food, medicine and other basic necessities and the coronavirus pandemic, which is currently at its worst point so far in Cuba.
The public has been suffering through long electricity blackouts and it is getting harder and harder to find basic products, food and medicine, the sale of which is mainly concentrated in foreign currency stores to which most Cubans do not have access, receiving their work pay in Cuban currency.
The Cuban government’s accusations received a quick reply from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said it was a “grievous mistake” to accuse his country or any other country of being behind the protests.
“It would be a grievous mistake because it would show that they are simply not hearing the voices and the will of the Cuban people deeply, deeply, deeply tired of the repression that has gone on for far too long,” Blinken said.
“Freedom,” “Down with the dictatorship,” “Down with communism,” “Homeland and life,” “No more lies,” “Get rid of the MLC stores” and “Get out” were some of the slogans most often being repeated during the unexpected protests that led to clashes between demonstrators and brigades of government defenders who shouted “I am Fidel (Castro)” as they were bused to the most active spots of the protests.
The anti-government protests broke out in a number of cities around Cuba and were the biggest to take place on the island since the so-called “maleconazo” protests of 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.