HAVANA — Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Wednesday acknowledged shortcomings in his government’s handling of shortages and of neglecting certain sectors, but he urged Cubans to not act with hate — a reference to violence during recent street protests.
Until now, the Cuban government had only blamed social media and the U.S. government for the weekend protests, which were the biggest seen in Cuba since a quarter century ago, when then-President Fidel Castro personally went into the streets to calm crowds of thousands furious over dire shortages following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its economic subsidies for the island.
In a nighttime address on state television, Díaz-Canel for the first time was self critical and acknowledged that failings by the state played a role in the protests over food shortages, rising prices and other grievances.
“We have to gain experience from the disturbances,” he said. “We also have to carry out a critical analysis of our problems in order to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition.”
In the protests, many Cubans expressed anger over long lines and shortages of food and medicines, as well as repeated electricity outages. Some demanded a faster pace of vaccination against the coronavirus. But there were also calls for political change in a country governed by the Communist Party for some six decades.
Police moved in and arrested dozens of protesters, sometimes violently, and the government has accused protesters of looting and vandalizing shops. Smaller protests continued Monday and officials reported at least one death. No incidents were reported Wednesday.
“Our society is not a society that generates hatred and those people acted with hatred,” Díaz-Canel said. “The feeling of Cubans is a feeling of solidarity and these people carried out these armed acts, with vandalism … yelling for deaths … planning to raid public places, breaking, robbing, throwing stones.
Cuba is suffering its worst crisis in years from a combination of the coronavirus pandemic that has paralyzed its economy, including the vital tourism industry, inefficiencies in the state-run economy and the tightening of U.S. sanctions on the island. The administration of President Donald Trump imposed more than 200 measures against the island in four years.
Díaz-Canel said that this “complex situation” was taken advantage of “by those who do not really want the Cuban revolution to develop or a civilized relationship with respect with the United States.”