Thousands in Cuba Take to Streets to Demand Freedom After Months of Essential Goods Shortages
The protests started in the community of San Antonio de Los Baños before quickly spreading all over the island, including in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, its two biggest cities.
First Large Protest in Decades
Cuba saw a rare event on Sunday when thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across the country chanting, “we want freedom!” and “we are no longer afraid!”
The protests are the first large-scale demonstrations in about 30 years and have been fueled by a variety of factors, including lack of political and personal freedoms, anger over the island’s worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the recent collapse of the island’s once-vaunted healthcare system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The protests gained steam as videos posted to social media made their rounds, but within a few hours, the government shut off the internet to stop the spread of footage and stymie the movement. President Miguel Diaz-Canel appeared on national television Sunday to let the nation know that the army was authorized to stop the protests, warning that “the order to fight has been given.”
He also asked that other Cubans confront the protesters, calling for “all the revolutionaries in the country, all the communists, to take to the streets and go to the places where these provocations are going to take place.”
To date, at least one person has died because of the protests in Cuba and many others have been injured, including journalists from outlets such as the Associated Press.
The demonstrations have caused political ripples outside of the islands, including nearby in the United States. One of the first official responses came from State Department official Julie Chung, who tweeted, “Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages.”
“We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need,” Chung added.
Media outlets and Twitter itself have echoed the sentiments that the protests are caused by COVID-19 and associated shortages; however, that characterization has received strong pushback from many. Ron Coleman, a prominent conservative lawyer, mocked the sentiment and tweeted, “I’ll never forget those protests against the German Measles,” while posting an image of protesters taking down the Berlin Wall.
Others, such as Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), pointed out that while COVID has undoubtedly played a part in highlighting issues of the Cuban regime, it’s hardly the only reason people are on the streets. He went on to criticize the Biden administration in a video on twitter Sunday night, saying, “…but Joe Biden has said absolutely nothing. The White House has done absolutely nothing.”
“And we have this tweet from the State Department that makes it look like this is about COVID,” he continued. “This is ridiculous, it’s disgraceful, and I don’t understand why it’s so difficult for Joe Biden and the White House to clearly present that ‘this is about liberty.’”
“‘What the people of Cuba are asking for is liberty.’ Why can’t they say that?”
Biden has since come out to more clearly state his administration’s stance, writing in a statement Monday morning, “We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime.”
Cuban-Americans have taken to the streets in droves to support the protest. Since Sunday, thousands have been on the streets of Miami to show solidarity with the protesters in Cuba. One of the most drastic calls for action came from Francis X. Suarez, Miami’s mayor, who called for a U.S.-led international intervention in Cuba.
Despite the protests, Cuba’s communist government does have international defenders, with some calling the protests a U.S.-led effort and others saying that the situation in Cuba is only occurring because of the decades-long U.S. embargo.
For many exile Cuban communities, concerns about conditions on the island have been increasing for months, especially after the government turned down international aid to fight the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. The country refused to be part of the COVAX vaccine-sharing program, instead opting to make its own vaccines, the first of which was approved for emergency use this week and is allegedly 92% effective.
As of Monday morning, it’s unclear just how many people are still protesting in Cuba, if any. The government’s response was swift and by all accounts brutal, and the internet is still largely shut down across the island.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (NBC News) (Washington Post)
95-Year-Old Woman Dies After Police Tases Her in Nursing Home
The officer involved was suspended with pay and charged with assault.
A 95-year-old Australian woman whom police tasered in a nursing home last week has reportedly died from her injuries.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia and required a walking frame to stand up and move, was living at the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma in southeastern Australia.
At about 4:15 a.m. on May 17, police and paramedics responded to a report of a woman standing outside her room with a steak knife.
They encountered Nowland, then reportedly tried to negotiate with her for several minutes, but she didn’t drop the knife.
The five-foot-two, 95-pound woman walked toward the two officers “at a slow pace,” police said at a news conference, so one of them tasered her.
She fell to the floor and reportedly suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain bleed, causing her to be hospitalized in critical condition.
Nowland passed away in a hospital surrounded by her family, the New South Wales police confirmed in a statement today.
After a week-long investigation, the police force also said that the senior constable involved would appear in court next week to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
NSW police procedure states that tasers should not be used against elderly or disabled people absent exceptional circumstances.
Following the incident, community members, activists, and disability rights advocates expressed bewilderment and anger at what they called an unnecessary use of force, and some are now questioning why law enforcement took so long to prosecute the officer involved.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNN)
U.K. Police Face Backlash After Arresting Anti-Monarchy Protesters
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that some of the arrests “raise questions” and “investigations are ongoing.”
The Public Order Act
A controversial protest crackdown law in the U.K. is facing criticism after dozens of anti-monarchy protesters were arrested during the coronation ceremony in London over the weekend.
The law, dubbed the “Public Order Act” was passed roughly a week ahead of the coronation for King Charles III. It gives police more power to restrict protesters and limits the tactics protesters can use in public spaces. It was condemned by human rights groups upon its passing, and is facing a new round of heat after 52 people were arrested over coronation protests on Saturday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said protesters were arrested for public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The group said it gave advance warning that its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low and that we would deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining the celebration.”
It is currently unclear how many of those arrested were detained specifically for violating the Public Order Act, however, some of those arrested believe the new law was used against them.
“Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK,” Graham Smith, the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic tweeted after getting arrested. “I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
An Attempt to “Diminish” Protests
During a BBC Radio interview, Smith also said he believes the dozens of arrests were premeditated.
“There was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held,” Smith claimed.
“The whole thing was a deliberate attempt to disrupt and diminish our protest.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch, also tweeted that the arrests were “disgraceful.”
“These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK,” she wrote.
When asked about the controversy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters officers should do “what they think is best” in an apparent show of support for the Metropolitan Police.
For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is looking into the matter.
“Some of the arrests made by police as part of the Coronation event raise questions and whilst investigations are ongoing, I’ve sought urgent clarity from Met leaders on the action taken,” Khan tweeted.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Foreign Nationals Make Mad Dash out of Sudan as Conflict Rages
The conflict’s death toll has surpassed 420, with nearly 4,000 people wounded.
As the 10-day-long power struggle between rival generals tore Sudan apart, foreign governments with citizens in the country scrambled to evacuate them over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. special forces landed in the capital Khartoum and carried out nearly 100 American diplomats along with their families and some foreign nationals on helicopters.
An estimated 16,000 Americans, however, remain in the country and U.S. officials said in a statement that a broader evacuation mission would be too dangerous.
Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, said in a statement that the Pentagon may assist U.S. citizens find safe routes out of Sudan.
“[The Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he said.
Germany and France also reportedly pulled around 700 people out of the country.
More countries followed with similar efforts, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
Yesterday, a convoy carrying some 700 United Nations, NGO, and embassy staff drove to Port Sudan, a popular extraction point now that the airport in Khartoum has closed due to fighting.
Reports of gunmen prowling the capital streets and robbing people trying to escape, as well as looters breaking into abandoned homes and shops, have persuaded most residents to stay indoors.
Heavy gunfire, airstrikes, and artillery shelling have terrorized the city despite several proposed ceasefires.
Over the weekend, the reported death toll topped 420, with nearly 4,000 people injured, though both numbers are likely to be undercounted.