SAN DIEGO – San Diegans are reacting to a wave of protests that have erupted in Cuba over the last several days.
“They’re in the street and they’re yelling ‘libertad’ and that means freedom, it means liberty,” said Sandra Cardet, owner of Havana Grill in the Clairemont area.
Frustrations with the communist government and way of life in Cuba have reached a new high. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Wednesday acknowledged shortcomings in his government’s handling of shortages and of neglecting certain sectors, but he urged Cubans to not act with hate — a reference to violence during recent street protests.
In a nighttime address on state television, Díaz-Canel for the first time was self critical and acknowledged that failings by the state played a role in the protests over food shortages, rising prices and other grievances.
“We have to gain experience from the disturbances,” he said. “We also have to carry out a critical analysis of our problems in order to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition.”
Cardet says many of these problems have been brewing for so long and she’s been waiting her whole life to see Cubans rise up like this. She said she’s “very moved and very encouraged” by the display.
“They want to bring down communism and bring back democracy,” she said. “That’s what this is all about.”
In the protests, many Cubans expressed anger over long lines and shortages of food and medicines, as well as repeated electricity outages. Some demanded a faster pace of vaccination against the coronavirus. But there were also calls for political change in a country governed by the Communist Party for some six decades.
Police moved in and arrested dozens of protesters, sometimes violently, and the government has accused protesters of looting and vandalizing shops. Smaller protests continued Monday and officials reported at least one death. No incidents were reported Wednesday.
“Our society is not a society that generates hatred and those people acted with hatred,” Díaz-Canel said. “The feeling of Cubans is a feeling of solidarity and these people carried out these armed acts, with vandalism … yelling for deaths … planning to raid public places, breaking, robbing, throwing stones.”
Authorities did not report the number of people arrested, Col. Moraima Bravet of the Interior Ministry said Wednesday only that they are mostly between the ages of 25 and 37 and will be prosecuted such crimes as public disorder, assault, contempt, robbery or damage.
After coming to America in the 1950s, Cardet considers herself an American, but Cuba is still home to her extended family, friends, and traditions. She shares her culture with San Diego at Havana Grill. But there is frustration with daily life back home in Cuba.
“It accelerates peoples discontent,” Cardet said. “There are no vaccines in Cuba. They brag about creating their own vaccine. There’s no vaccine. There’s no disinfectant in Cuba. We tell people to wash their hands — what if there’s no soap?”
The Cuban government cracked down on the country’s internet access since Sunday, the largest day of protests, and largely blames the economic crisis on the U.S. trade embargo.
“Ninety miles away, there’s 11 million people living under a communist dictatorship for over 60 years so yes, it’s going to take some sort of coalition, some sort of movement in the international community to make something happen,” Cardet said.