One dead, dozens arrested after anti-government protests in Cuba

One person has died and more than 100 others, including independent journalists and dissidents, have been arrested following unprecedented anti-government protests in Cuba, some of which were still in custody on Tuesday, observers and activists said.

A 36-year-old man named by the state news agency as Diubis Laurencio Tejeda died Monday during an anti-government protest in Havana’s suburbs, the interior ministry said.

The ministry said it was “mourning” his death, while the news agency said he had participated in “disruptions”.

Relatives and friends of those detained during and after Sunday’s historic demonstrations went desperate on Tuesday for news of their whereabouts.

“They took him out of the house handcuffed and beaten, shirtless, maskless,” said a 50-year-old woman who declined to give her name, and inquired about her 21-year-old son at a police station. in the capital.

“They took many from the neighborhood, young and old,” she said, before leaving empty-handed.

Cuban freedom of expression protest movement San Isidro released a list on Twitter late Monday of 144 people detained or reported missing after thousands of Cubans took to the streets in dozens of towns and villages in a spontaneous outburst of public anger.

Thousands of protesters chanted “Down with the dictatorship” during protests dispersed by police in some 40 different locations on Sunday.

About 100 protesters gathered in Havana again on Monday evening chanting “Down with communism”.

The demonstrations were different from those since the Cuban revolution. They came as the country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in 30 years, with chronic shortages of electricity, food and medicine and a recent worsening of the coronavirus pandemic.

But Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denied Tuesday that there had been a “social outbreak” on Sunday, stressing that the people “still support the revolution and their government”.

‘Economic suffocation’

Havana blamed the show of discontent on the United States pursuing a “policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country”.

Cuba has been under US sanctions since 1962.

But Washington pointed the finger at “decades of repression” in the communist one-party state.

Cuba’s Catholic Church called for “understanding” in a statement published on the Episcopal Conference website, adding that “people have the right to express their needs, desires and hopes”.

The bishops also criticized the “immobility of the government which helps to give continuity to the problems, without solving them”.

Many Cubans were looking for lovers.

“They took my daughter yesterday (Monday) and I have no news about her,” said a woman at a police station in Havana.

A young man said his brother, 25, had been taken from a neighbor’s house. “They gave him a huge blow, unjustly, and took him away,” he said.

A police officer told concerned relatives that the detainees had been taken to various detention centers, without giving details about who went where.

Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary at the US State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, tweeted Monday for the “immediate release” of the detainees.

“Violence and detentions of Cuban protesters and disappearances of independent activists … remind us that Cubans pay dearly for freedom and dignity,” she said.

Among them were dissident Guillermo Farinas, former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer and artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara.

‘Counterrevolutionary Elements’

Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party, said on Tuesday that President Miguel Diaz-Canel met with his retired predecessor Raul Castro and the rest of the Communist Party’s politburo on Sunday to discuss the protests.

They “analyzed the provocations orchestrated by counter-revolutionary elements, organized and funded from the United States for destabilization purposes,” Granma said.

According to the London-based group NetBlocks, mobile internet in Cuba was down for much of Sunday and authorities cut off access to major social media platforms on Monday.

The United States on Tuesday urged Cuba to lift internet restrictions and “show respect for the voice of the people by opening all means of communication, both online and offline”.

‘Treated like rubbish’

Among those arrested was theater director Yunior Garcia, a leader of the 27N movement who was born after a much smaller protest by members of the arts community on Nov. 27 last year to demand freedom of expression.

Garcia said on Facebook that he and a group of friends were beaten “and forcibly dragged into a truck and thrown”.

“We were treated like crap,” he said, adding that they were taken to a detention center in Havana, where they saw “dozens of young people” arriving.

He was released Monday afternoon.

Camila Acosta, a Cuban correspondent for the Spanish newspaper ABC, was also arrested on Monday, the foreign editor said.

Spain’s foreign ministry on Tuesday urged Cuban authorities to respect the right to protest and demanded that Cuba release Acosta “immediately”.

The last major protests, and the first since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, were in 1994.

They were also against economic hardship, but were confined to the capital and were quickly put down by the police.

(AFP)

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