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Cuba’s leader says government failings played a role in protests

Police officers sitting back of truck
Special-forces police officers sit in a truck parked outside the National Capitol in Havana.
(Eliana Aponte / Associated Press)

Cuba’s leader for the first time offered some self-criticism in an address acknowledging that government shortcomings in handling shortages and other problems played a role in this week’s protests, whose scale and intensity caught many by surprise.

But in a televised speech Wednesday night, President Miguel Díaz-Canel also called on Cubans not to act with hate — a reference to the violence that occurred at some of the demonstrations in which protesters voiced grievances over high prices, food shortages and power outages. Some even called for a change in the government.

Before Díaz-Canel’s address, the government had blamed social media and the U.S. for last weekend’s protests, the biggest in Cuba in a quarter-century, since the time when then-President Fidel Castro waded into the streets to calm thousands of people furious over dire shortages following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its economic subsidies for the island.

On Wednesday, Díaz-Canel said failings by the state played a role in the unrest.

“We have to gain experience from the disturbances,” he said. “We also have to carry out a critical analysis of our problems in order to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition.”

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In the protests, many Cubans expressed anger over long lines and shortages of food and medicines, as well as repeated electricity outages. Some demanded a faster pace of vaccination against COVID-19. But there were also calls for political change in a country governed by the Communist Party for some six decades.

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Police arrested dozens of protesters, sometimes violently, and the government has accused demonstrators of looting and vandalizing shops. Smaller protests continued Monday, and officials reported at least one death. No incidents were reported Wednesday.

“Our society is not a society that generates hatred and those people acted with hatred,” Díaz-Canel said. “The feeling of Cubans is a feeling of solidarity, and these people carried out these armed acts, with vandalism ... yelling for deaths ... planning to raid public places, breaking, robbing, throwing stones.”

Authorities did not report the number of people arrested. Col. Moraima Bravet of the Interior Ministry said only that most were between the ages of 25 and 37 and would be prosecuted for such crimes as public disorder, assault, contempt, robbery and damage.

Cuba is suffering its worst crisis in years from a combination of inefficiencies in the state-run economy, the tightening of U.S. sanctions on the island and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has paralyzed the economy, including the vital tourism industry. The Trump administration imposed more than 200 measures against the island in four years.

The Castros ruled the only socialist nation in the Western Hemisphere for 62 years. Their mark will last a very long time.

Díaz-Canel said that this “complex situation” was taken advantage of “by those who do not really want the Cuban revolution to develop or a civilized relationship with respect with the United States.”

Shortly before the president’s remarks, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero announced some measures such as customs flexibility for Cuban citizens who go on foreign trips to bring home toiletries, food and medicines, which are among the most hard-to-find items in Cuba.

Marrero also said that work was being done to improve the stability of the national electricity system and that officials would seek to improve the supply of medicines, many of which are produced on the island but whose inputs must be imported.

Meanwhile, Economy Minister Alejandro Gil announced that directors of state-owned enterprises would be allowed to determine salaries beyond the regulations. He also said that, in the coming weeks, long-promised rules would be instituted for small- and medium-size enterprises to be formed, a step once unthinkable under the communist government.


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