SAN JUAN — Cubans in the municipality of Caimanera, near the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, marched in protest against the government late on Saturday, according to official reports and videos shared on social media.
Coming a day after a pro-government May Day demonstration in the capital city of Havana on Friday, the protest in Caimanera, a small fishing village in the southeast, marked the first such anti-government demonstration of the year.
Reportan en la noche de este 6 de mayo protestas en el municipio de Caimanera, Guantánamo. En las imágenes se escuchan decenas de personas que exclaman ¡Libertad! pic.twitter.com/qKNIe8nIeF
— El Toque (@eltoquecom) May 7, 2023
Videos posted to social media show nearly Cubans marching through the fishing village’s dimly lit streets only to be attacked by men in military uniforms. Before the confrontation, protesters filled the air with chants of “¡Viva Cuba libre!” (Long live free Cuba) and “¡Libertad!” (freedom).
The images were widely shared by human rights groups and Cuban dissidents living outside the island.
The state-run news website CubaDebate claimed the protests were sparked by a “reduced group in a drunken state,” saying that the “same four or five [people] from always” caused the videos to go viral.
“We want food, not speeches,” a man can be heard saying in one video.
Protests in Cuba are not nearly as common as they are in the United States but have been occurring more frequently as a fuel shortage exacerbates the already austere conditions on the island.
“There’s no blockade here,” another man falsely claimed in the same video, referring to the ongoing trade embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States has imposed on Cuba since 1960.
While President Joe Biden has taken measures to ease restrictions, many activists claim it is not enough. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, a bipartisan bill making its way through the U.S. Senate, promises to lift the embargo but is unlikely to be passed by Congress.
The United Nations has called on the United States to end the embargo for decades, the latest censure in November garnering the support of 185 countries, with only the United States and Israel voting against the measure and Brazil and Ukraine abstaining.
In recent weeks, tensions have escalated due to fuel shortages affecting the nation’s electrical grid, public transportation, and food supply. Lines stretch for blocks as people diligently wait at gas stations that have not been refueled for days.
Cuba, which imports approximately 80 percent of its food, has been experiencing some of the worst food shortages since the 1990s, according to The Economist. U.S. food exports to Cuba increased by 144 percent between 2021 and 2022.
“We’re going to continue without rice, without oil,” a man says in one of the videos shared online.
The eastern parts of Cuba have historically been a base of government support, with previous anti-government protests largely taking place in Havana on the northern coast.
“The tranquility of the evening was altered this Saturday in the municipality of Caimanera and of course the web nearly collapsed,” journalist Mabel Pozo Ramírez, who works for the state-run Radio Guantánamo, said of the protests on Facebook. A similar message was posted on a page linked to the municipal government in Guantánamo.
Caimanera is commonly known as the “first trench against imperialism” because of its proximity to the U.S. naval base, which houses a prison where the U.S. military tortured suspected terrorists and held them indefinitely.
Cuban dissidents claimed the government blocked internet traffic inside the country to quell the spread of anti-government sentiment.
Netblocks, a global internet watchdog, reported there had been a sharp decrease in traffic from the island shortly after videos from the protests began to spread.
“Network data show a collapse in internet traffic in #Cuba amid protests for freedom and human rights centering around Caimanera, Guantanamo; connectivity remains intermittent at present with partial restoration noted,” the watchdog said on Twitter.
While pro-government media claimed the videos uploaded caused disruptions, Cuba often suffers such outages during protests, causing many dissidents to blame the shutdowns on government repression.
Internet access seems largely restored at press time.
“Cuban security forces responded violently to peaceful protests in the locality of Caimanera, hitting citizens for demanding human rights,” the US Embassy in Havana said, condemning the government response.
Carlos Edill Berríos Polanco is the Caribbean correspondent for Latino Rebels, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Twitter: @Vaquero2XL