Cubans Stage Rare Protests Demanding Electricity, Food

Cubans held rare public protests on Sunday over food and electricity shortages, as the country experienced lengthy outages that left areas of the island without power for up to 14 hours each day.

“People were shouting ‘food and electricity’,” a 65-year-old resident, who begged not to be identified, told AFP via phone from Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second-largest city, 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Havana.

The city’s electricity was restored later in the day, and “two truckloads of rice” were supplied, according to the witness.

Images of protests in Santiago de Cuba, a city of 510,000 people in the island’s east, were widely shared on social media. There were also photographs of protesters in another major city, Bayamo.

Cuba has been experiencing a series of blackouts since the beginning of March as a result of maintenance work on the island’s largest thermoelectric plant, the Antonio Guiteras.

However, this weekend, the problem was exacerbated by a lack of fuel required to create energy.

Some locations, including Santiago de Cuba, lost electricity for up to 14 hours each day as a result of the outages.

“Several people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the electricity situation and food distribution,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel stated on X, warning that “enemies of the Revolution” planned to take advantage of the situation.

There is a group of “terrorists based in the United States, whom we have denounced on several occasions, who are encouraging actions that go against the internal order of the country,” he said in a statement.

The US embassy in Havana said on X that it was aware of reports of “peaceful protests” in Santiago, Bayamo, and other parts of Cuba. It called on the Cuban government to “respect the human rights of the protestors and address the legitimate needs of the Cuban people.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded on X, warning Washington not to “interfere in the country’s internal affairs”.

Cuba’s power comes from eight ancient thermoelectric power plants, generators, and eight floating electrical plants leased from Turkey, all of which were affected by the fuel crisis.

The cash-strapped island government raised fuel prices by more than 400 percent earlier this month as part of an economic recovery strategy.

The nation of 11 million is undergoing its biggest economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s, owing to the coronavirus outbreak, recent US sanctions tightening, and fundamental flaws in the economy.

Official predictions indicate that the Cuban economy will contract by 2% in 2023, with inflation reaching 30%. Independent experts believe this is an underestimation.

There are persistent shortages of fuel and other necessities, and the government subsidizes nearly all of Cubans’ purchases.

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