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Security forces cracked down on largest anti-govt protests in decades amid worsening economic crisis and COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands 11 July protested across country including in capital Havana and Santiago city, calling for President Díaz-Canel to step down; demonstrators voiced anger over shortages of food and medicines, restriction of civil liberties and authorities’ handling of COVID-19 pandemic amid record surge in cases; security forces accused protesters of looting and vandalising shops, and rights group Cubalex reported 100 protesters, activists and journalists detained nationwide. Díaz-Canel next day blamed protests on “economic asphyxiation” from U.S., said U.S.-financed “counter-revolutionaries” were fomenting unrest. U.S. President Biden 12 July said U.S. “stands firmly with the people of Cuba” in their quest for “freedom from an authoritarian regime”, and Mexican President López Obrador same day called on U.S. to “suspend the blockade of Cuba” as “humanitarian gesture”. Renewed protest 12 July erupted in Havana suburb of La Guinera, leaving one dead and several injured, including security forces officers. Internet watchdog NetBlocks 13 July said govt had restricted access to social media and messaging platforms, while Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba same day defended demonstrators’ right to “publicly express” needs, urging govt to listen. Díaz-Canel next day acknowledged for first time shortcomings in govt’s handling of shortages. Thousands 17 July attended govt-organised rally in Havana to support Cuban revolution and denounce U.S. embargo. Cuban Institute for the Freedom of Expression and the Press mid-July said at least 47 journalists had been arrested since protests started; judicial authorities said 59 people had been tried by 24 July for taking part in protests, while Cubalex estimated that nearly 700 had been arrested by 26 July, 157 of whom had been released. U.S. 22 July imposed sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on Security Minister Gen. Alvaro López Mier and a special forces unit for alleged human rights violations during protests.
Dramatic improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations with U.S. move 17 Dec to normalise ties, and possibility of end to decades-long U.S. embargo of the island, set to transform political relations across hemisphere.
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