14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, September 30, 2022 — Shouting “Freedom,” a crowd took to the streets of Havana on Friday night for a second day of protests, which spread to several neighborhoods in the city. In response to the demonstrations, the regime again cut off internet access at roughly 7:00 PM.
Throughout the day demonstrators blocked traffic in many areas. In some streets they formed human chains to close off major avenues, like those in the Cerro district.
“Besides joining hands, people have roped off several blocks of Cerro Avenue between Tejas and Patria streets,” reports one source at the scene.
Protests began in the morning on Palma Street and Calzada de Bejucal in the Arroyo Naranjo district. They later spread to Puentes Grandes in the Havana suburb of Playa, which has been without power for 72 hours.
Protests increase, people shout “Freedom” in the streets.
Several videos posted on social media show a crowd in Arroyo Naranjo banging pots and calling for the government to resolve the country’s energy crisis. “They blocked the street so no one could get through,” says a woman filming the protest. “Down with the dictatorship! Enough is enough!” she shouts as she joins the demonstrators. Several police officers stand nearby, leary of confronting the protestors.
Several women with children joined another afternoon protest, blocking traffic along a stretch of the National Highway, known as the First Ring of Havana. Videos and photos posted online show uniformed officers trying to convince demonstrators, who had placed stones and wooden poles in the roadway, to allow vehicles to pass.
Protest along a stretch of the National Highway.
The collapse of the National Electrical System in the wake of Hurricane Ian, along with worsening shortages, have led to a new wave of demonstrations. Residents of several areas, including Cerro, San Miguel del Padron and Arroyo Naranjo, demonstrated into the night on Thursday.
Those who managed to charge their mobile phones and videotape the protests try to avoid focusing on people’s faces, aware that police later use videos like these to identify and arrest demonstrators, as happened in the aftermath of the July 11 protests in 2021.
14ymedio contacted the state telecommunications company Etecsa to ask about the disruption of internet service that began around 8:00 PM on Thursday. The operator said the disruption was “nationwide” and that the company was working to resolve the problem. Asked about its cause, she curtly replied, “I cannot give out that information.”
Tweet: “Cubans, tired of all the hardship and crisis, confront government leaders and officials. More information on 14ymedio.com” [Click on blue bird to see tweet.]
On Thursday officials from the Provincial Defense Council (CDP) tried to placate crowds with the usual government rhetoric. During one encounter in a Havana neighborhood, a woman interrupted a female official dressed in military uniform to say “I don’t believe you people.” Next to her, an older woman snapped at the officer: “I am a materialist; I am not an idealist. I believe what I see. If after 72 hours they haven’t done anything, I have to say that nothing’s been done.” Her words were greeted with applause by those standing nearby.
Another officer trying to “explain the situation” was also taken to task by the crowd. “Why don’t you take the gas from the patrol cars and use it for the electric company’s cars?” someone asked
On Friday the CDP president himself, Luis Antonio Torres Iribar, acknowledged, “[Last night] we had to deal with isolated events in the province which involved mass demonstrations over the water situation, over the electrical situation, over the loss of food due to the power outage,” before conceding, “I consider these demands to be just.”
Crowd along Bejucal Avenue in Arroyo Naranjo on Thursday.
“I believe people have a right to protest, but only when government leaders are not doing what they are supposed to do,” claimed the official, adding, “But in the situation we’re talking about, yesterday’s protests, instead of helping, they prevented us from carrying out our mission and bringing about a full recovery in the shortest possible time, as we desire.”
Three days after the hurricane, the power outage is affecting whatever small amounts of food people might being storing in refrigerators. Some were able to freeze large plastic bottles of water to keep temperatures in their refrigerators low, but the ice has since melted and the food is threatening to rot.
This has led to a pressing need to consume whatever reserves of meat, milk and other products families might have before they go bad. Even if power is restored in the next few hours, finding food will be the biggest challenge people face in a country that, before the hurricane, already suffered from alarming shortages.
Meanwhile, the government has mobilized its military and police forces, leaving bodegas* and other locations authorities consider essential “unprotected.” In other establishments that sell food, such as some department stores, the police have stationed none-too-subtle “co-workers,” often young men of military age, to keep watch.
According to the state-run newspaper Tribuna de la Habana, the Ministry of Domestic Commerce reported that 700 “economic targets” in the western part of the country were damaged by Hurricane Ian. These include bodegas, department stores and building supply stores. Lost food supplies, flattened buildings, collapsed roofs and structures rendered unusable are some of the most serious types of damage.
The government has said it will prioritize “maintaining food supplies intended for people who have been evacuated,” which are limited to “items to be cooked.” It has forgotten that the rest of the country is facing the same challenges of preserving and cooking food without electricity.
*Translator’s note: small state-run neighborhood or corner grocery stores that sell rationed goods.
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.