Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

Cubans took to the streets in unusual protests on Sunday, voicing grievances over food and electricity shortages exacerbated by prolonged power outages lasting up to 14 hours a day in some areas.

“People were shouting ‘food and electricity’,” disclosed a 65-year-old resident from Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second-largest city, located 800 kilometers east of Havana, speaking anonymously to AFP via phone.

Following the unrest, electricity was eventually restored to the city, with reports of the arrival of “two truckloads of rice” to alleviate food shortages, as per the resident. Social media platforms were flooded with visuals depicting protests in Santiago de Cuba, a city with a population of 510,000, along with reports of demonstrations in another major city, Bayamo.

The protests mark a rare occurrence in Cuba, where previous mass anti-government demonstrations in July 2021 were met with forceful suppression, resulting in hundreds of protesters receiving lengthy prison sentences on charges including sedition.

In response to Sunday’s unrest, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel called for “dialogue” with the people amidst “tranquility,” acknowledging dissatisfaction over the electricity and food situation. He cautioned against exploitation of the situation by “enemies of the Revolution.”

While the US embassy in Havana acknowledged reports of “peaceful protests” and urged the Cuban government to respect human rights, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez rebuffed calls for interference in internal affairs.

The ongoing crisis stems from a wave of blackouts since the beginning of March, attributed to maintenance on the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant, Cuba’s largest, compounded by a fuel shortage affecting electricity generation.

Cuba, facing its worst economic crisis since the 1990s, grapples with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, tightened US sanctions, and structural economic vulnerabilities. Widespread shortages and soaring inflation persist, prompting calls for solutions from local authorities and expressions of concern from citizens and religious leaders alike.

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