Puerto Rico: Cuba appeared to block access to some social media sites on Monday while dozens of protesters remain in custody as authorities crackdown on dissent following the largest mass demonstrations in years.
The privately-run Internet monitoring firm NetBlocks said that social media and messaging sites such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Telegram were being partially disrupted on the tightly-controlled communist island.
Earlier in the day, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel blamed social media for fanning the flames of discontent that erupted into weekend protests. Facebook Inc. didn’t immediately reply to an email requesting comment.
The Cuban government “will not turn the other cheek for those who attack us online or in the real world,” he wrote on Twitter. “We will avoid revolutionary violence, but we will repress counterrevolutionary violence.”
The government has not said how many people have been detained, but Cuba Decide, a pro-democracy group on the island, released a list of 57 people it said had been arrested or were unaccounted for. Among those still missing were Jose Daniel Ferrer and his son, both activists with the dissident group Cuba Patriotic Union, or UNPACU.
On Sunday thousands took to the streets to decry rising prices, lack of basic goods and frequent blackouts. In rare public-displays of anger on an island that punishes dissent, there was sporadic looting and confrontations with security forces. In one incident, crowds flipped a police car.
On Monday, Diaz-Canel blamed the anger on the U.S. trade embargo, which he said was starving the island of fuel and forcing power cuts. Cuba is also seeing a new peak of Covid-19 cases, which have required the government to channel electricity to hospitals and health centers at the expense of everyday Cubans, he said.
Diaz-Canel also said Miami’s conservative Cuban-American “mafia” was fueling the unrest.
Cuba has been under single party rule since its 1959 revolution, and has recently faced growing hunger after its economy was hit by a slump in tourist revenue during the pandemic. In 2017, former U.S. President Donald Trump tightened the embargo, making it more difficult for American tourists to travel to the island.
Cuba last year introduced emergency economic reforms in response to the downturn, eliminating some subsidies, adjusting prices and wages, and ending the dual currency system.
The protests represent one of the first major challenges to the leadership of Diaz-Canel who took office in 2018 and replaced Raul Castro as the head of Cuba’s Communist Party in April.
Diaz-Canel recognized there were “legitimate” reasons for Cubans to be dissatisfied, but he also said the protests were part of a U.S.-backed “unconventional war,” like the one he said had led to protests in Venezuela.
U.S. President Joe Biden said that the protesters are “bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights.”
“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” he said.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called on the U.S. to end the “unjust” embargo, and offered to send medicine, vaccines and food to Cuba if its government requests aid.—Bloomberg
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