Cuba summons top US diplomat, accuses US of stoking protests

A woman uses her mobile phone in downtown Havana

By Dave Sherwood

HAVANA (Reuters) -Cuba's foreign ministry said it had summoned the top U.S. diplomat on the island to a meeting following protests on Sunday, accusing the U.S. embassy in Havana of seeking to stoke a broader anti-government uprising and meddling in Cuba's internal affairs.

Rallies in protest of oppressive, hours-long blackouts and food shortages erupted in at least five locations across the island on Sunday, including Cuba's second largest city Santiago, state-run media said.

The U.S. government said on X late on Sunday that it was monitoring the protests and encouraged the Cuban government to "respect the human rights of the protesters and address the legitimate needs of the Cuban people."

Those comments prompted Cuba's foreign ministry to call charge d'affaires Benjamin Ziff to a meeting with deputy foreign minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, "who formally conveyed his firm rejection of the government's interventionist behavior and slanderous messages," a statement from the ministry said.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said it was "absurd" to suggest Washington was behind the protests.

The latest tiff between the two long-time foes underscores the still frosty relationship between Cuba and the United States, which has barely improved since Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden took office in 2021.

Cuba's foreign ministry on Monday repeated the communist-run government's long-standing accusation that a Cold War-era U.S. embargo and other sanctions were seeking to impoverish Cubans and destabilize the country.

Sunday's protests, which were described as "respectful" by Cuban officials, marked the largest single night of confirmed protests since October 2022, when power across the island was cut for nearly a week in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Demonstrations are rare in Cuba, a country where authorities take a dim view of dissent.

Cuba's state-run newscast early on Monday showed posts from social media - including some from U.S. members of Congress - about the demonstrations, and accused U.S.-based agitators of seeking to confuse the situation or stoke anger by suggesting government repression or more widespread protests than was actually the case.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel also pointed a finger at Washington.

"Mediocre politicians and networked terrorists lined up from South Florida to heat up the streets of #Cuba with interventionist messages and calls for chaos. They were left wanting," Diaz-Canel said on X.

The Caribbean island nation appeared quiet on Monday, although the government said it expected blackouts to remain acute through the week, with electricity generation meeting only around two-thirds of demand.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood in Havana, additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington and Nelson Acosta in Havana, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)