Hundreds of protesters took to the streets Sunday in Cuba’s second-largest city, Santiago, demanding food and power amid a worsening economic crisis that has left many everyday Cubans with scarce amounts of each.

In widely circulated videos on social media, Cubans in Santiago, in the east, can be heard chanting, “We are hungry,” as well as calling for electricity and food. Some residents have experienced power outages for 18 hours a day or more.

While there have been occasional outbreaks of protests in the past few years, they are still rare on the tightly controlled, communist-run island.

Videos circulated on social media also show protests in Bayamo, another city in the east.

Cuba has been grappling with a severe economic crisis with shortages in food, medicine, fuel and power. Inflation has risen sharply, making many products unaffordable for Cubans who depend on an average monthly state salary of $16.

Cuba has been under punishing U.S. sanctions for decades, which the Cuban government largely blames for their economic woes. The country’s Soviet-style, centrally planned economy has also affected Cuba’s economy negatively, according to economists.

Cuba recently took some austerity measures including a steep hike in the price of gasoline, which has left people nervous.

Ricardo Torres, a Cuban economist and fellow at American University in Washington, D.C., said there is no quick fix for the problems Cuba is facing with lack of power, which requires the purchase of fuel, and the shortages in food, which the island mostly imports, unless one of its allies comes to its rescue with aid. 

“Cuba should be talking about how to move away from its centrally planned economy and towards a market economy,” Torres said. “Two or three economic measures only put a Band-aid on the problem.”

Following the protests, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel posted on X that “mediocre politicians and terrorists on social media” got together in South Florida to try to fire up the streets.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana posted on X that it was aware of the peaceful protests in Santiago, Bayamo, Granma and elsewhere and urged Cuba’s government “to respect the human rights of the protestors and address the legitimate needs of the Cuban people.” 

Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, responded, saying the “US government, particularly its embassy in #Cuba, should abstain from interfering in the internal affairs of our country and inciting social unrest.”

Sunday’s protests were the largest in Cuba since July 11, 2021, when island-wide demonstrations swept through the island. It ended with a heavy crackdown by authorities. There are 675 protesters still in prison, according to Justicia 11J. 

The dire economic situation has driven a huge wave of migration from the island. There have been over half a million encounters with Cubans at the U.S. Mexico border between October 2022 and January 2024, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most are working age and leave behind an aging demographic.

The reaction from Cuban-Americans and other Cubans who live outside the island was swift. In Miami, dozens rallied in support of those in Cuba outside of emblematic Cuban restaurant, Versailles. Both the rally in Miami and the protests in Cuba were occurring almost simultaneously.

In a press conference Monday, Cuban American Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., said “one of the most basic needs of the people is freedom. And this regime, through Castro or through the current regime has denied the Cuban people freedom for over 60 years.”

“I’m here to ask the Biden administration to see what they can do. If they have any technology available to allow the Cuban people to communicate with themselves.” [I think he meant to say ‘with each other’]

Cuban-born rapper Yotuel, posted a video on Facebook, telling members of Cuba’s military that there is still time to get on the side of the Cuban people and “be on the right side of history.”

“La ira de un pueblo sediento de libertad, sediento de vida, sediento de illusion va a parar contigo,” said Yotuel.

Yotuel collaborated with others on a Latin Grammy winning song called “Patria y Vida” or “homeland and life,” a spin on Fidel Castro’s famous slogan “Patria o Muerte,” which means “homeland or death.” The song’s name has been chanted during protests in Cuba on Sunday as well as the larger protests that took place in July 2021.

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