(AFP)— One person has died in the anti-government protests across Cuba, according to officials, with activists saying at least 100 people have been arrested and scores remain in detention as demonstrations overseas in solidarity continued.
The rallies are the largest since the Cuban revolution of the 1950s and come as the country endures its worst economic crisis in 30 years, with chronic shortages of electricity, food and medicine, just as it records a spike in coronavirus infections.
Cuba’s San Isidro free speech protest movement published late Monday a list of 144 people held or reported as disappeared following the demonstrations in dozens of cities and towns.
A 36-year-old man died during a protest on the outskirts of Havana on Monday, the interior ministry said Tuesday, according to the state news agency, which named him as Diubis Laurencio Tejeda and said he had taken part in “disturbances.”
Demonstrators had chanted “down with the dictatorship” before being dispersed by police in about 40 different locations across Cuba on Sunday, but about 100 protesters again gathered in the capital Havana Monday evening, shouting “down with communism.”
Relatives and friends of those detained during and after the historic demonstrations engaged in a desperate search on Tuesday for news on their whereabouts.
“They took him from the house handcuffed and beaten, without a shirt, without a mask,” said a 50-year-old woman who did not wish to give her name, asking after her 21-year-old son at a police station in the capital.
“They took many from the neighbourhood, young and old.”
On Tuesday Cuba’s foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez denied there had been a “social outbreak”, insisting that the people still support “the revolution and their government.”
Havana blamed the show of discontent on the United States — which has placed Cuba under sanctions since 1962 — pursuing a “policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country.”
But Washington pointed the finger at “decades of repression” in the one-party communist state.
In Miami and the US capital, Cuban-Americans rallied in support of the anti-government demonstrations, with smaller scale protests also breaking out in Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay.
Cuba’s Catholic Church called for “understanding” in a statement published on the Bishops Conference website, adding “the people have the right to express their needs, desires and hopes.”
President Miguel Diaz-Canel met with his retired predecessor Raul Castro and the rest of the Communist Party politburo on Sunday to discuss the protests, Granma, the official newspaper of the country’s governing party, said Tuesday.
Mobile internet was down across much of Cuba for much of Sunday, and on Monday the authorities cut access to major social media platforms, according to London-based group NetBlocks.
The United States urged Cuba to end the internet restrictions and demonstrate “respect for the voice of the people by opening all means of communication, both online and offline.”
Many Cubans spent their time desperately searching for loved ones.
“They took my daughter yesterday (Monday) and I have no news of her,” said a woman at a Havana police station.
A young man said his brother, 25, was taken from a neighbour’s house. “They gave him a tremendous blow, unjustly, and took him away,” he said.
A police official told worried family members that those arrested were taken to different detention centres, without providing details of who went where.
Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary in the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, called Monday for the “immediate release” of the detainees.
“Violence and detentions of Cuban protesters & disappearances of independent activists… remind us that Cubans pay dearly for freedom and dignity,” she tweeted.
Those held included dissident Guillermo Farinas, former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer and artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara.
Also among those arrested was theater director Yunior Garcia, a leader of the 27N movement, which was born last year to demand free speech.
Garcia said on Facebook that he and a group of friends were beaten “and forcefully dragged and thrown into a truck.”
“We were treated like rubbish,” he said, adding that they were taken to a detention centre in Havana where they saw “dozens of young people” arrive. He was released on Monday afternoon.
Also arrested on Monday was Camila Acosta, a Cuban correspondent for the Spanish newspaper ABC, its foreign editor said.
Spain urged the Cuban authorities to respect the right to protest and demanded Acosta’s release.
The last major protests, and the first since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, were in 1994.
Those were also against economic hardship but were limited to the capital and quickly put down by police.