Cuban president acknowledges government failings contributed to protests

Cuban president acknowledges government failings contributed to protests
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Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Wednesday said the government bore some responsibility for widespread protests in the country over the weekend.

Díaz-Canel’s comments, broadcast in a televised address, were a departure from previous remarks in which he blamed social media and the U.S. government for fueling the protests.

“We have to gain experience from the disturbances,” he said, according to a report from The Associated Press. “We also have to carry out a critical analysis of our problems in order to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition.”

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The protests were spurred by a worsening economic situation in Cuba as COVID-19 has crushed the island nation’s tourism industry and citizens have experienced food shortages and power blackouts. But protesters have also chanted “patria y vida,” or "homeland and life" — a spin on the revolutionary slogan "homeland or death."

Díaz-Canel, who previously called U.S. sanctions on the island the “politics of economic asphyxiation,” also said the protests were 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.”

Earlier this week the Cuban government eased some travel restrictions, allowing Cubans who go on foreign trips to bring back food, toiletries and medicine that can be difficult to access on the island.

But Díaz-Canel, the first person outside of the Castro family to lead the country's Communist Party, also criticized some who participated in the protests. One man was killed in a clash with police, with state authorities claiming he was part of a group vandalizing a government building. 

“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.”

Cuban authorities have not reported the number arrested during the protests, but the State Department, in a call with congressional staff earlier this week, said that 99 people were arrested in connection with the protests after tens of thousands of people demonstrated across 45 cities. 

However, Cubalex, a group pushing for democracy in Cuba, estimates that 136 people have been detained or are still missing in the days following the protests.

Updated at 11:37 a.m.