Residents of Santiago de Cuba Take to the Streets, Demanding Electricity and Food

Protests this Sunday in Santiago de Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 March 2024 — After several days of extended power outages and weeks-long shortages of basic rations, thousands of Santiago residents took to the streets on Sunday, shouting “electricity and food… freedom… homeland and life” and “We are hungry.”

The crowd was concentrated on Carretera del Morro, close to several popular and humble neighborhoods such as Vista Hermosa, Van Van, Dessy and Altamira.

After initial images of a large-scale demonstration began to appear on social media sometime after noon, the Cuban government — as has become customary in such instances since the Island-wide protests of 11 July 2021 — began restricting communications, cutting off cell-phone internet access across the island.

Independent journalist Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, who was born in Santiago de Cuba and now lives in the United States, shared several images of the city sent to her by followers of her Facebook page. These show a strong police presence that includes uniformed officers monitoring some of the protest and several patrol cars at the scene.

The recently appointed provincial Communist Party secretary, Beatriz Johnson Urrutia, arrived on the scene. In a video posted by Mayeta, Johnson can be seen on the roof of a house trying to talk to the crowd, who shout her down. Dozens of people, mainly women, insult her and other officials. They can be heard chanting Patria y vida and, to applause, “libertad.”  A truckload of soldiers can also be seen in the video being rebuked by the crowd.

In the same video, a lieutenant colonel from the Armed Forces ministry as well as dozens of police officers can be seen among the demonstrators but, for now, there have been no reports that security forces have tried to disrupt the protest.

Other footage seems to capture the moment when Beatriz Johnson arrives on the scene. In an expression of frustration with the excuses the regime always provides to justify its mismanagement, people can be heard shouting “We don’t want a lackey”.

Residents of Santiago de Cuba report that on Saturday, March 16, ration stores in some areas of the city began distributing only three pounds of rice instead of the usual monthly quota of six pounds. Residents are only just now receiving January’s quota of coffee. “We’re dying of hunger and, on top of that, there are the blackouts. There’s not even enough electricity to chill some water or preserve the little food you do get,” says a resident of Caney, a village northeast of Santiago.

In another video circulating on social media, women of varying ages, among them women holding children, shout “electricity and food.” Plainclothes policemen try to silence them but the women just shout louder.

Similarly, another resident shouts, “Down with communism… Down with Díaz-Canel.”  A short time later, several women applaud her, shouting “electricity and food.”

In an unusual move, the government-run digital news website Cubadebate offered explanations for what was happening in Santiago de Cuba on Sunday. In a post on Facebook, it stated, “As a result of hours-long hours of power outages due to the unavailability of fuel and other situations resulting from the current economic crisis, some people took to the streets and a popular demonstration occurred.”

It added, “Demonstrators were calling for ’electricity and food,” and noted, “Isolated shouts of “Patria y Vida” could be heard coming from small groups within the crowd,” though it added that “most demonstrators did not join in.”

Cubadebate has also reported the presence of security forces but says, “Police have not intervened, as can be seen in the videos. They are just monitoring the demonstration and conversing directly with citizens, in the normal course of duty. They are allowing the demonstration take place unhindered.” It also confirms of reports of Beatriz Johnson’s and other officials’ presence at the scene, “talking to the people and listening attentively to the complaints.”

“Police have not intervened, as can be seen in the videos. They are just monitoring the demonstration and conversing directly with citizens”

Though no activist or independent journalist has called for violence, state media claims that there have been such calls from “media and spokespersons who seek social destabilization on the Island and violence among Cubans.”

“Is the demonstration still going on?” asks Cubadebate without providing a definitive answer. “Some reports indicate it has ended though videos and photos of the event are still being posted on social media.”

Demonstrations were also reported on Sunday in Bayamo, a city in Granma province. Videos posted on social media show a crowd in the streets, with some people on foot and others on bicycles, tricycles and electric scooters. Photographs released by independent news outlets also indicate the presence of police and soldiers in transport trucks ready to break up the demonstrations.

14ymedio received a report after 7:00 P.M. that, in recent days, there were several protests in Holguín and that military personnel have taken over some large parks in the city such as Calixto García, Las Flores y el José Martí.

“There are dozens of officers on motorcycles, plainclothes police, patrol cars and cars with men in red berets,” describes one city resident. “They expect something or fear repercussions in Holguín from the Santiago demonstrations,” he adds.

It seems provincial authorities felt an urgent need to respond quickly to the situation. A large part of the city center is militarized, with many civilian security personnel present as well,” says the same source, who claims that, due to heavy surveillance, photos cannot not be taken.

In other provinces such as Sancti Spíritus and Artemisa, phone calls cannot be made and mobile data is not working.


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