Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Saturday denounced what he said was a false narrative over unrest on the Caribbean island, speaking during a rally alongside ex-president Raul Castro and before thousands of supporters in Havana.
“What the world is seeing of Cuba is a lie,” Diaz-Canel said.
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He decried what he said was the dissemination of “false images” on social networks that “encourage and glorify the outrage and destruction of property.”
Diaz-Canel’s comments come days after historic demonstrations against the communist government.
On July 11 and 12, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in 40 cities around the island shouting “Freedom,” “Down with the dictatorship,” and “We’re hungry.”
One person has died and more than 100 have been arrested, including independent journalists and opposition activists, since the protests broke out over the worst economic crisis in decades.
There is an “overflowing hatred on social networks,” the president insisted on Saturday.
Cuba cut off internet access on the island from Sunday for three days after the protests erupted last weekend.
It restored access on Wednesday, but social media and messaging apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter remained blocked on 3G and 4G networks.
Social media is the only way Cubans can reach independent news outlets while messaging apps are their main means of communicating among themselves.
US President Joe Biden has said Washington is considering ways to ease internet restrictions, though analysts have warned it could be tricky for technological and political reasons.
– ‘Cold calculation’ –
Diaz-Canel said the “lie” was not committed “by chance or mistake; all this is the cold calculation of an unconventional-war manual.”
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.
Havana, under US sanctions since 1962, has blamed the show of discontent on Washington pursuing a “policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest.”
Biden called Cuba a “failed state” on Thursday and said it is “repressing their citizens.” He said the US was prepared to potentially send significant amounts of Covid vaccine to the island. Cuba has also been developing its own vaccines.
“Born to conquer and not to be conquered!” shouted the crowd at the rally, which had gathered at dawn on the Malecon, Havana’s famed oceanfront boulevard.
Castro, 90, was drawn out of retirement by the gravity of the protests.
Shortly before the rally began, police arrested a man who shouted “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), the title of a protest rap song which has become the anthem of anti-government demonstrators.
The official newspaper Granma said similar rallies were called in other cities including Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo, Camaguey and Santa Clara.