Thousands join rare anti-government protests in Cuba

·1-min read
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel (C) is seen during a demonstration held by citizens to demand improvements in the country, in San Antonio de los Banos, Cuba, on July 11, 2021

Thousands of Cubans took part in rare protests Sunday against the communist government, marching through a town chanting "Down with the dictatorship" and "We want liberty."

The protest in San Antonio de los Banos, a town of some 50,000 people southwest of Havana, came as Cuba is experiencing its toughest phase yet of the coronavirus epidemic, the same day it reported a new daily record of infections and deaths.

Some of the demonstrators, mainly young people, shouted insults against President Miguel Diaz-Canel who turned up at the event, according to amateur videos posted online, while others proclaimed: "We are not afraid."

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

The country of 11.2 million people was left relatively unscathed in the first months of the outbreak, but has seen a recent hike in infections and a new record of 6,923 daily cases reported Sunday and 47 deaths for a total of 1,537.

"These are alarming numbers which are increasing daily," said Francisco Duran, head of epidemiology in the health ministry.

Under hashtags such as #SOSCuba, calls for assistance have multiplied on social media, with citizens and rap stars alike urging the government to make it possible for much-needed foreign donations to enter the country.

An opposition group on Saturday called for the creation of a "humanitarian corridor," an initiative the government rejected by saying Cuba was not a conflict zone.

Ernesto Soberon, a foreign affairs official, denounced a "campaign" he said sought to "portray an image of total chaos in the country which does not correspond to the situation."

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