- REUTERS - JULY 12, 2021 - Marc Frank, Sarah Marsh -
HAVANA, July 11 (Reuters) - Chanting "freedom" and calling for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down, thousands of Cubans joined street protests from Havana to Santiago on Sunday in the biggest anti-government demonstrations on the Communist-run island in decades.
The protests erupted amid Cuba's worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, its old ally, and a record surge in coronavirus infections, with people voicing anger over shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the authorities' handling of the pandemic.
Thousands took to the streets in various parts of Havana including the historic centre, their shouts of “Diaz-Canel step down” drowning out groups of government supporters waving the Cuban flag and chanting "Fidel."
Special forces jeeps, with machine guns mounted on the back were seen throughout the capital and the police presence was heavy even long after most protesters had gone home by the 9 p.m. curfew in place due to the pandemic.
"We are going through really difficult times," Miranda Lazara, 53, a dance teacher, who joined the thousands of protesters who marched through Havana. "We need a change of system."
Diaz-Canel, who also heads the Communist Party, blamed the unrest on old Cold War foe the United States, which in recent years tightened its decades-old trade embargo on the island, in a televised speech on Sunday afternoon.
Diaz-Canel said many protesters were sincere but manipulated by U.S.-orchestrated social media campaigns and “mercenaries” on the ground, and warned that further “provocations” would not be tolerated, calling on supporters to confront “provocations."
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