14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 13 September 2017 — Hundreds of people demonstrated in Havana’s Diez de Octubre neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon, protesting the lack of electricity and water after Hurricane Irma. The protest began spontaneously, according to witnesses who spoke with 14ymedio.
“We want light! we want water!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated!” were the slogans shouted by the crowd, demanding basic services suspended since Saturday when the hurricane struck the island with winds over 125 miles an hour.
Among the slogans the demonstrators shouted there was also heard the cry of “Let Raul come!” calling for the president to visit the affected areas. So far, the leader has limited himself to sending a message of support to the citizenry, but has not visited the areas damaged by Hurricane Irma.
“From noon, the police closed (the main thoroughfare) Calzada de Diez de Octubre, because things got hot there,” one of the private taxi drivers serving the area told 14ymedio.
Dozens of officers of the Revolutionary National Police (PNR) and special troops known as Black Berets arrived at the scene after a few minutes of protest, but the protesters were not intimidated and continued their demands.
A neighbor of Santos Suárez park said that the demonstrators were around her house for “some hours” and from there they went towards the main thoroughfare, Calzada de Diez de Octubre, continuing to protest as they came up against a police barrier that prevented their passage.
“People got tired of the government’s bad management and came out to protest. There was no alternative,” she added.
However, one protester said there were no arrests for the protests and that the uniformed officers withdrew with the promise to restore basic services “as soon as possible.”
“There was fear, nobody knew who was who because many policemen in civilian clothes arrived,” says another of the demonstrators.
As of 5:30 PM when 14ymedio was able to check the situation just hours after the demonstrations began, authorities had sent work teams from the electricity company and reestablished electricty and the water supply.
“Fidel had his flaws but he put on his foot down when these things happened and went out to the streets to solve the problems,” said an old woman.
After the protest, police patrols remained in the area and, according to the neighbors, many of the people found at key points in the area “look like they are state security.”
By about six o’clock in the afternoon a tense calm was felt. Some people took the opportunity to wash down the entryways in the area, and only spoke in low voices about what had happened just a few hours earlier.
Public protests are severely punished in Cuba. Last July 26, three activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba challenged the authorities with banners denouncing “58 years of deceit, hunger and misery” in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. After being arrested following a “savage beating,” the activists, who demanded freedom of expression, assembly and the press are being held in prison awaiting trial.
Daniel Llorente, another protester who on May Day ran with a US flag in front of the government parade is still confined to the capital’s Psychiatric Hospital.
The biggest protest in the island’s history during the rule of the brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro – known as the Maleconazo – occurred in August 1994 when hundreds of people confronted the police in Havana with sticks and stones, looting shops and calling for an end to socialism.