The U.S. State Department Tuesday called for “calm” in Cuba after the biggest protests in decades against the island’s communist government roiled the country Sunday.
“We call for calm and we condemn any violence against those protesting peacefully, and we equally call on the Cuban government to release anyone detained for peaceful protest,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a news briefing.
Some 150 protesters have been arrested and, according to Reuters, only 12 have been released.
Price added that the U.S. government was considering what it could do to help the thousands of protesters who’ve taken to the country’s streets to protest an economic crisis plaguing the island and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by its once vaunted health care system.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday that “we’re pulling for the people of Cuba. This has been an outrageous, thuggish regime for some 70 years now.” He added that he didn’t know if the protests were strong enough to “overcome the thugs.”
Meanwhile, access to social media platforms remained at least partially restricted Tuesday after the government reportedly shut them down Monday. NetBlocks, a London-based organization, said Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram were among those restricted.
Officials in Cuba have not commented on access to platforms on the island.
Cuban Authorities Block Access to Internet in Response to Protests
On Monday, Cuban authorities were blocking Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram
The Cuban government blames the U.S. for the unrest, saying the embargo is the reason for the country’s economic woes, which saw the economy shrink by 11%, the Cuban government reported.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that blaming the protests on the U.S. would be a “grievous mistake” and proof the Cuban government was not hearing the concerns of the Cuban public.
In a sign that the Cuban government is concerned about the protests, former head of the Cuban Communist Party Raul Castro attended a meeting of the political bureau to discuss the “provocations,” according to state-run media. Castro stepped down from the position in April and was replaced by Miguel Díaz-Canel.
Protests are rare in Cuba, where internal security forces tightly control the population, but economic conditions are causing many to demand changes.
“What we want is change,” Yamila Monte, a Cuban domestic worker told AFP. “I have had enough.”
People “are angry because there is no food, because there are problems,” Yudeiky Valverde, a 39-year-old primary school employee, told AFP.
A protester who spoke to the Associated Press but declined to identify himself out of fear of possible arrest said: “We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. That’s why I’m here.”
Maykel, a Havana resident who spoke to Reuters and declined to give his surname, described the situation in Cuba by saying, “It’s becoming impossible to live here.”
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, AFP and Reuters.