Thousands join rare anti-government protests in Cuba

Havana (AFP) –


Thousands of Cubans took part in rare protests Sunday against the communist government, marching through a town chanting "Down with the dictatorship" and "We want liberty."

The protest in San Antonio de los Banos, a town of some 50,000 people southwest of Havana, came as Cuba is experiencing its toughest phase yet of the coronavirus epidemic, the same day it reported a new daily record of infections and deaths.

Some of the demonstrators, mainly young people, shouted insults against President Miguel Diaz-Canel who turned up at the event, according to amateur videos posted online, while others proclaimed: "We are not afraid."

Social anger has been driven by long food lines and a critical shortage of medicines since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, with Cuba under US sanctions.

The country of 11.2 million people was left relatively unscathed in the first months of the outbreak, but has seen a recent hike in infections and a new record of 6,923 daily cases reported Sunday and 47 deaths for a total of 1,537.

"These are alarming numbers which are increasing daily," said Francisco Duran, head of epidemiology in the health ministry.

Under hashtags such as #SOSCuba, calls for assistance have multiplied on social media, with citizens and rap stars alike urging the government to make it possible for much-needed foreign donations to enter the country.

An opposition group on Saturday called for the creation of a "humanitarian corridor," an initiative the government rejected by saying Cuba was not a conflict zone.

Ernesto Soberon, a foreign affairs official, denounced a "campaign" he said sought to "portray an image of total chaos in the country which does not correspond to the situation."