China has called on the United States to end its economic embargo of Cuba and expressed support for the communist-run island that has seen its biggest anti-government protests in decades.
Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday to voice their anger over shortages of food, medicine and electricity as the country endures an economic crisis and a surge in Covid-19 infections. They chanted “freedom” and called for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Tuesday said that “as the Cuban side has pointed out, the US embargo is the root cause of Cuba’s shortages of medicine and energy”. He noted that the Cuban leader had gone to see the protesters “and listened to the voices of the people”.
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Zhao also cited a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in June calling for the end of the US blockade on Cuba, for the 29th year in a row, saying it “reflects the universal voice of the international community”.
“The United States should completely lift the embargo against Cuba and play a positive role for the Cuban people to overcome the impact of the epidemic,” Zhao said during a regular press briefing.
He said China believed that social stability could be maintained in Cuba under the strong leadership of its Communist Party and government.
Cuba is facing its worst economic crisis in 30 years as tourism and imports have fallen sharply amid the pandemic, while the worsening Covid-19 situation is stretching its health care system, with nearly 7,000 new cases and 47 deaths reported on Sunday.
President Diaz-Canel, who also heads the party, blamed the US for the protests in a nationally televised speech on Sunday afternoon. He called US sanctions on Cuba – which have been in place since 1962 – a policy of “economic asphyxiation”, according to Reuters, and said the protesters were mercenaries hired by the US to destabilise the country.
On Monday, US President Joe Biden said in a statement that the United States stood with the people of Cuba, supported their right to demonstrate, and called on the Cuban regime to “hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves”.
US sanctions on Cuba were tightened under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said the US had continued to provide humanitarian assistance and medical supplies to Cuba, but there was “nothing to preview” in terms of a change in policy.
Jiang Shixue, director of the Centre for Latin American Studies at Shanghai University, noted that relations between the US and Cuba were better when Barack Obama was president – and Biden was vice-president – when sanctions were eased. But he said it remained unclear whether the Biden administration would reverse the tougher measures brought in by Trump.
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