HAVANA (AP) – Less than a week after a rare series of anti-government protests were dispersed by police and government supporters, and sparked self-criticism from President Miguel Díaz-Canel, things appear calm in Cuba. But many wonder how much longer.
Squares and parks were occupied by government sympathizers with flags on Friday, and the flow of traffic and people was normalizing. But mobile internet data service – which authorities cut on Sunday – remained limited.
“There is political and social erosion … There is a lot of disgust, we have to talk more, do more things and things that have been done badly have to be rectified,” said Abel Alba, a civil engineer from 50 years. “The president tried to smooth things over a bit” but waited “too long” to listen to the demands of people in the streets.
The protests began on Sunday when thousands of Cubans marched on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere to protest against food and medicine shortages, power outages and some even calling for political change. The protests continued in smaller numbers on Monday and Tuesday.
Díaz-Canel first responded by looking for culprits, highlighting US economic sanctions, the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and a social media campaign led by Cuban-American groups. But he later recognized a certain responsibility of the Cuban leadership.
With this in mind, Cuban ministers announced a package of measures, including authorizations for travelers to import food and medicine without limits and the emergency registration of Cuban supply books by people outside of the country. their place of origin.
“The Cuban government has just shown that it could have allowed the entry of food and medicine without limit of quantity or price, but chose not to do so for more than a year of the pandemic,” wrote José Jasan Nieves, director of the independent digital newspaper, El Toque. “People were twisting their arms. “
The authorities reiterated their intention to finish allowing the operation of small and medium-sized enterprises as a source of employment as well as a program for public enterprises to pay more than the current salary scale.
What officials have also made clear is that they are unwilling to change the political model of the island.
Street vendor Marlén Rodríguez, 66, was not optimistic following the government’s announcements. “There is no medicine, there is nothing, there is no food.”
According to Díaz-Canel, there were four sectors involved in the protests: radical supporters of the United States who waved that country’s flag during the protests and demanded humanitarian intervention from Washington, criminal groups who took advantage of the situation. to plunder, people genuinely desperate because of the impact of the crisis on their daily lives and young people who have no plans in society.
The marches turned violent with clashes between police and protesters, patrol cars destroyed, shops looted, windows smashed, stones being thrown and violent arrests and injuries.
Some Cubans were shocked by the vandalism, and groups of government supporters took to the streets and clashed with protesters.
“They were going down the Calzada de San Miguel (del Padrón) while we were going up. We tried to persuade them, but these comrades were violent and threw stones at us, ”said Julio César Pérez, member of the Communist Party and employee of the Ministry of Construction. He said several members of his group were injured in the fight.
An opponent of the government has died in the protests and the exact number of those arrested is not known. Opponents of the government said on social media that the number was over 100.
On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for the release of the protesters.
The measures announced by the government “are positive measures, but they are insufficient,” Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez said.
“Without affecting the ideology, there is a lot of space in which the state can act,” he said, referring to allowing private entrepreneurs to import goods without going through the state monopoly. , allowing foreign companies to set up retail markets or raise the cap. for agricultural prices in order to increase supply.
But political analysts have said the economic challenges are significant.
“I think the government is just trying to signal to people that it understands their desperation and is going to try to alleviate some of the misery they are going through. The problem is, the government just doesn’t have a lot of resources it can devote to this, ”said William LeoGrande, an expert on Cuba at the American University in the United States.
LeoGrande said the unrest in Cuba and the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse put the Caribbean back on US President Joe Biden’s agenda.
“There is no doubt that the protests in Cuba and the assassination of the Haitian president and the ensuing unrest pushed the Caribbean to the top of President Biden’s foreign policy agenda, even though they would have preferred that they stay on the back burner for a while. much longer, ”he said. “What the administration will do on Cuba is still very uncertain.”