Bernie Sanders Breaks His Silence On Cuba

Daily Mail

Bernie Sanders has finally broken his silence on Cuba to demand the US end its embargo which ‘has only hurt, not helped the Cuban people’ and urged the communist nation’s government to refrain from violence against the island’s protesters and opposition.  

‘All people have the right to protest and to live in a democratic society,’ Vermont Sen. Sanders tweeted. ‘I call on the Cuban government to respect opposition rights and refrain from violence. It’s also long past time to end the unilateral U.S. embargo on Cuba, which has only hurt, not helped, the Cuban people.’

The former presidential candidate tweeted after he and fellow ‘Democratic Socialist’ Bronx Congresswoman   Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came under fire for their lack of public response to anti-government protests that began in Cuba over the weekend.  

Ocasio-Cortez remains entirely silent on social media.

In Miami, home to a large community of Cuban Americans, hundreds turned out in Little Havana to express solidarity and celebrate what they viewed as the beginning of the end. On Twitter, Miami mayor Francis Suarez implored the United States to ‘take action.’ 

The protests in Cuba marked some of the biggest displays of antigovernment sentiment in the tightly controlled country in years. 

Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as it suffers the consequences of U.S. sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump’s administration. 

Large contingents of Cuban police patrolled the capital, Havana, on Monday following rare protests around the island nation against food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus crisis. 

Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, said the demonstrations were stirred up on social media by Cuban Americans in the United States.

The White House responded to the accusation saying: ‘That’s simply inaccurate,’ 

‘There’s every indication that yesterday’s protests were reactions of the people in Cuba to exhaustion of the governance of the leaders of the state,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday at her daily briefing.

Díaz-Canel denounced vandalism that took place during the demonstrations.

‘They threw stones at foreign currency shops, they stole items… and at police forces, they turned over cars – a totally vulgar, indecent and delinquent behavior,’ he said.

But the president said pro-government supporters had finally restored order after instructing them to fight back and ‘defend the revolution’ – orders that caused consternation among some Cubans.

In Miami, where many Cubans who opposed Fidel Castro’s regime fled after the Cuban Revolution, opponents of the revolutionary leaders started marching in solidarity with protesters still on the island. 

Some Republican lawmakers, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, have praised the protests despite regularly villainizing protesters in their own states.

‘Florida supports the people of Cuba as they take to the streets against the tyrannical regime in Havana. The Cuban dictatorship has repressed the people of Cuba for decades & is now trying to silence those who have the courage to speak out against its disastrous policies,’ DeSantis tweeted.

‘The Communist Cuban regime will be consigned to the dustbin of history. It has brutalized & denied freedom to generations of Cubans, and forced my family & so many others to flee. The American people stand squarely with the men & women of Cuba and their noble fight for liberty,’ Senator Cruz tweeted.  

In Miami, a group of Cuban exiles and local conservative activists from Venezuela, Colombia and Nicaragua called for people in the city to support Cuba and called for the Biden administration to intervene in the aftermath of massive protests on the island. 

‘The Cuban people are not on the streets asking for medicine, they’re not on the streets asking for food. They’re in the streets demanding freedom,’ said Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, a Cuban exile and member of the Assembly for Cuban Resistance, based in Miami.

Gutierrez-Boronat said he was supportive of young people on the island taking to the streets and would like to see the U.S. to intervene militarily. 

‘What they are saying is they don’t want a tomorrow with the Communist Party in charge.’

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, a political prisoner from Cuba who was jailed for 17 years on the island, said it was important for the U.S. government to understand that the groups did not support calls for negotiations with Cuban leaders.

‘We have to support those who are inside Cuba who are the real protagonists of this change,’ said Garcia Perez told the Miami Herald. ‘I, as a political prisoner, as an anti-Castro fighter, I am filled with hope to make a soon return to my homeland. 

‘Those people who are out on the streets are not asking for rafts. They’re not asking for boats, they’re not asking for planes or visas. They’re asking for freedom’, he said. 

In Havana, many young people took part in the demonstrations. Protests were also held elsewhere on the island, including in the small town of San Antonio de los Baños, where people objected to power outages and were visited by President Miguel Díaz-Canel. He entered a few homes, where he took questions from residents.

Authorities appeared determined to put a stop to the demonstrations. More than a dozen protesters were detained, including a leading Cuban dissident who was arrested trying to attend a march in the city of Santiago, 550 miles east. The demonstrators disrupted traffic in the capital for several hours until some threw rocks and police moved in and broke them up.

Internet service was spotty, possibly indicating an effort to prevent protesters from communicating with each other.  

Amnesty International said it had received with alarm reports of ‘internet blackouts, arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force – including police firing on demonstrators.’  

Network monitoring company Kentik said it had observed the entire country go offline for less than 30 minutes at around 4pm on Sunday, followed by several hours of intermittent outages.

‘Until very recently, large internet outages were very rare,’ said Doug Madory, Kentik’s director of Internet analysis. ‘Internet shutdowns are new to Cuba in 2021.’

Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said there was partial disruption to social media and messaging platforms in Cuba on Monday, ‘likely to limit the flow of information from Cuba.’

‘We’ve seen how the campaign against Cuba was growing on social media in the past few weeks,” Díaz-Canel said Monday in a nationally televised appearance in which his entire Cabinet was also present. ‘That’s the way it’s done: Try to create inconformity, dissatisfaction by manipulating emotions and feelings.’

In a statement Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden said Cuban protesters were asserting their basic rights.

‘We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,’ Biden said.

‘The U.S. urges the Cuban government to serve their people rather than enriching themselves,” Biden added.

‘The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like these protests in a long long time if, quite frankly ever,’ the president said.

‘The US stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. And we call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempt to silence the voices of the people of Cuba.’  

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq on Monday stressed the U.N. position ‘on the need for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to be respected fully, and we expect that that will be the case.’

The demonstrations were extremely unusual on an island where little dissent against the government is tolerated. 

The last major public demonstration of discontent, over economic hardship, took place nearly 30 years in 1994. 

Last year, there were small demonstrations by artists and other groups, but nothing as big or widespread as what erupted this past weekend. 

In the Havana protest on Sunday, police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted, ‘Freedom!’ ‘Enough!’ and ‘Unite!’ One motorcyclist pulled out a U.S. flag, but it was snatched from him by others.

‘We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. That’s why I’m here,’ one middle-age protester said.

Later, about 300 pro-government protesters arrived with a large Cuban flag, shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Some assaulted a video journalist with the AP, smashing his camera. Photojournalist Ramón Espinosa also of the AP was then beaten by a group of police officers in uniforms and civilian clothes; he suffered a broken nose and an eye injury.

The demonstration grew to a few thousand in the vicinity of Galeano Avenue and the marchers pressed on despite a few charges by police officers and tear gas barrages. People standing on many balconies along the central artery in the Centro Habana neighborhood applauded the protesters passing by. Others joined in the march.

About 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed. 

At least 20 people were taken away in police cars or by individuals in civilian clothes.

Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon Sunday.

On Monday, Cuban authorities were once again blocking Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram, said Alp Toker, director of Netblocks, a London-based internet monitoring firm confirmed.

‘This does seem to be a response to social media-fueled protest,’ he said. Twitter did not appear to be blocked, though Toker noted Cuba has the ability to cut it off if it wants to.

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