Thousands of Cubans marched on Havana
's Malecon promenade and other parts of the island on Sunday to protest food
shortages and high prices caused by the coronavirus
outbreak, in one of the largest anti-government demonstrations in recent memory.
Many young people
participated in the afternoon protest in the capital, which disrupted traffic for several hours until police
intervened and broke up the march after a few protesters threw rocks.
Police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted "Freedom," "Enough," and "Unity." One motorcyclist pulled out a U.S. flag, but it was snatched away by others.
“We are tired of the lines and shortages, which is why I am here,” one middle-aged protester told The Associated Press
, declining to identify himself for fear of being arrested later.
As a result of Trump administration sanctions
, Cuba is experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades, as well as a resurgence of coronavirus cases.
A Biden administration
official tweeted his support for the protests
“Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise
their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths and medicine shortages; we applaud the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations
to help neighbors in need,” tweeted Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary of state
for Western Hemisphere affairs.
The protest grew to a few thousand people near Galeano Avenue, and the marchers continued despite a few charges by police officers and tear gas
barrages. People standing on many balconies along the central artery in the Centro Habana neighborhood applauded the protesters passing by, and others joined the march.
Despite the fact that many people attempted to broadcast the protest live on their cellphones, Cuban authorities shut down internet service for the entire afternoon.
Around 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters picked up cobblestones and threw them at police, causing officers to arrest people and the marchers to disperse.
A group of government supporters also arrived in the area, shouting slogans in support of late President
Fidel Castro and the revolution, and assaulting a cameraman and an AP photographer.
Demonstrations were also held in other parts of the island, including the small town of San Antonio
de los Banos, where residents protested power outages and were visited by President Miguel Daz-Canel, who entered a few homes and answered residents' questions.
However, he later accused Cuban of inciting a riot.
“As if pandemic
outbreaks did not exist all over the world, the Cuban-American mafia has created a whole campaign... and has called for nationwide demonstrations,” Diaz-Canel told reporters.