Thousands join rare anti-government protests in Cuba | News of coronavirus pandemic

Demonstrations come as Cuba experiences its hardest phase of the coronavirus crisis.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in rare anti-government protests in Cuba, where the the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis sparked frustrations, with some protesters chanting “with dictatorship” and “we want freedom”.

In a protest Sunday in San Antonio de los Banos, a city of about 50,000 people southwest of Havana, mostly youths shouted insults against President Miguel Diaz-Canel, according to videos posted online. “We’re not afraid,” some said.

“I was just walking around town looking to buy some food and there were a lot of people there, some with placards, protesting,” Claris Ramirez, a local resident, told Reuters news agency by phone.

“They protest against blackouts, that there is no medicine,” he added.

Thousands of people also gathered in central Havana along the sea, amid a heavy police presence, while demonstrations took place later in the day in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba. .

Police drive close to people during protests against Cuban government support in Havana on July 11 [Stringer/Reuters]

Demonstrations came as Cuba experienced its hardest phase of the coronavirus crisis, and on the same day reported a new daily record of infections and deaths.

Social anger has been driven by long food lines and a critical shortage of medicines since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, with Cuba under US sanctions.

Diaz-Canel late Sunday afternoon addressed the nation, accusing the US of being responsible for the unrest. He warned that further “provocations” would not be tolerated.

Havana-based journalist Ed Augustin said there was a heavy police presence in the capital. He said that Diaz-Canel in his speech to the country invited the people who support the Cuban revolution to come out to defend it.

“These are the biggest protests in Cuba for decades,” Augustin told Al Jazeera.

Cuba was left relatively unscathed in the early months of the coronavirus outbreak, but saw a recent rise in infections.

A new record 6,923 cases a day was reported on Sunday, with 47 more deaths. “These are alarming numbers that are growing every day,” said Francisco Duran, head of epidemiology at the health ministry.

The country is developing five of its COVID-19 vaccines and last month said one of them, named Abdalla, shown 92 percent efficiency.

Cuban doctors and nurses were there fanning throughout the capital in an effort to encourage shocks, hoping that inoculations will help stem the growing number of infections.

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