Thousands of Cubans stage largest protest against communist dictatorship in decades

The Cuban national flag is seen raised over their new embassy in Washington, July 20, 2015.
The Cuban national flag is seen raised over their new embassy in Washington, July 20, 2015. | Reuters/Andrew Harnik/Pool

The people of Cuba on Sunday demonstrated their anger against the communist government in what is said to be the largest protest in decades amid shortages of medicine and food during the pandemic. 

Protests were held in cities around the Caribbean island country, including in San Antonio de los Baños, Palma Soriano and Havana, according to reports.

“It is the most massive popular demonstration to protest the government that we have experienced in Cuba since ’59,” the year Fidel Castro took power, Cuban activist Carolina Barrero was quoted as telling The New York Times.

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She called the protests “spontaneous, frontal and forceful.”

The slogans people shouted included "Yes we can!" and “Freedom,” The Washington Post reported. Videos also emerged on social media.

Cuba has been a one-party state under the Communist Party of Cuba since the late dictator Fidel Castro overthrew the United States-supported dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. In 2008, Castro’s brother Raul Castro was elected president, followed by Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2019.

International travel restrictions and monthslong COVID-19 lockdown within the country have caused an economic crisis in Cuba.

Hours after the protests erupted, President Díaz-Canel addressed the nation on national television, urging government supporters to confront the protesters on the streets. He also accused the U.S. of causing the crisis in Cuba by imposing sanctions.

Public officials from Florida, where many Cuban migrants and refugees live, backed the Cuban people’s protest.

“Florida supports the people of Cuba as they take to the streets against the tyrannical regime in Havana,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote on Twitter.

“The Cuban dictatorship has repressed the people of Cuba for decades & is now trying to silence those who have the courage to speak out against its disastrous policies."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American, warned Cuba was likely to impose an information crackdown on its people.

“The incompetent communist party of #Cuba it cannot feed the people or protect them from the virus. Now the military must defend the people, not the communist party,” he tweeted.

Rubio also said he would request President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “ask the members of the Cuban army not to shoot at their people.”

The Cuban government amended its Constitution in 1992, declaring Cuba a secular state instead of an atheist state, partially allowing religious activities. Since then, the percentage of the country’s population that identifies as Christian has grown. However, the communist regime of Cuba persecutes Christians. A new constitution was adopted in 2019, which also lists the country as a secular state. 

According to the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, about 59% of Cubans are Christian. Cuban Christians face constant government surveillance and infiltration even though the church is growing in the island country.

In 2019, Cuba barred evangelical leaders from traveling to Washington, D.C., to talk about the human rights situation during the U.S. State Department's ministerial on international religious freedom. 

In 2019 and 2020, the State Department placed Cuba on its “special watch list” of countries that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom. 

In a March 2020 report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom detailed how Cuban authorities manipulated the legal system to “wage persistent harassment” against religious leaders. The panel also voiced concerns over the denial of religious freedom for human rights activists and journalists.

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