Cuban Protests Over Economic Crisis Due to Covid-19 Pandemic and US Sanctions

July 12, 2021

By: William Beavers

Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday to protest a lack of food and medicine as the country undergoes a grave economic crisis aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic and US sanctions. Demonstrators complained about a lack of freedom and the worsening economic situation during the rare protests, according to people who spoke to CNN and videos from multiple cities, including capital Havana. Many chanted for "freedom" and called for President Miguel Díaz-Canel to step down.

Cubans protested on Sunday over an economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and US sanctions. Photo courtesy of ABC News.
Multiple protesters were arrested by police, who used tear gas to break up some demonstrations. In Havana, a CNN team witnessed demonstrators being forcibly arrested and thrown into the back of vans by police officers. There were also violent clashes, where protesters turned over a police car and threw rocks at officers.
In a nationally televised address, President Díaz-Canel said US trade sanctions had created economic misery on the communist-run island. Diaz-Canel did not offer any concessions to the protesters in his speech, but instead urged his supporters to physically confront them. "The order to combat has been given," he said at the end of his appearance, "Revolutionaries need to be on the streets."
Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of Cuba. Photo courtesy of Britannica.
In videos on social media, protesters said they "weren't afraid: or wanted liberty or access to coronavirus vaccines. US President Joe Biden expressed support for the Cubans, saying "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." 
On the other hand, President Diaz-Canel criticized the protests on Monday, calling demonstrators vandals who "broke into the stores and stole [many items]." He reiterated that US sanctions were the cause of Cuba's ailing economy.
US-Cuban relations are at their lowest point in years. The Trump administration enacted some of the toughest economic measures against Cuba in decades, and so far, the Biden administration seems reluctant to lift them
The already struggling Cuban economy has been hit hard as tourism and good imports have dropped steeply during the pandemic.
On Sunday, Cuban health officials reported a single-day increase for new Covid-19 cases and deaths.