Cuba accuses US of ‘destabilisation’ ahead of opposition protests

Cuba saw rare public protests in July over rising living costs, food shortages and the continuing US embargo.

Cuban protesters shout slogans against the government during a rare demonstration in Havana on July 11 [File: Alexandre Meneghin/Reuters]

Cuba has accused the United States of seeking to destabilise the island, as Cuban opposition groups plan to hold protests next week despite a government ban on the demonstrations.

The outlawed Cuban opposition has said it will defy the ban to protest for change and against violence in the capital, Havana, and six other provinces on Monday.

The country was rocked by rare public protests in July, as demonstrators took to the streets for two days in anger over the rising cost of living, food shortages and the continuing US embargo, among other issues.

On Wednesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the government would not allow “the persistent aggression by the United States government, its intense and constant attempts … to create conditions for internal destabilisation, to alter the citizens’ calm and security”.

Last month, Cuba rejected the protest organisers’ request to demonstrate, claiming the so-called “Civic March for Change” would be a “provocation” supported by the US with the aim of leading to regime change.

“There have been 29 statements from the United States government and influential figures in that nation’s congress since September 22 alone … all aimed at encouraging, guiding, instigating destabilisation actions in our country,” said Rodriguez.

Havana’s public prosecutor’s office has warned protest organisers about the “criminal consequences” they face if they go ahead with their plans – but the opposition remains unbowed and has promised to hold the demonstrations.

Monday’s protests will coincide with Cuba reopening its tourism sector and primary schools after months of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the capital will celebrate the 502nd year since its foundation.

The government has announced it will conduct annual military exercises on Monday, as well.

Michael Bustamante, an expert on Cuba at the University of Miami, said the timing of the opposition demonstrations could explain “the intensity of the state’s response”.

“This is the moment where the Cuban state is looking to turn the corner on what has been a very bad year … and here you have this group saying, ‘no, we are choosing this specific moment to press for political change’,” Bustamante told the Reuters news agency.

The Cuban authorities prosecuted dozens of people in relation to the protests on July 11 and 12.

Hundreds of people were arrested during those demonstrations and many faced charges of contempt, public disorder, vandalism and propagation of the coronavirus for allegedly marching without face masks. At least one person died during the two days of unrest.

US President Joe Biden’s administration imposed fresh sanctions on Cuba following the protests.

“We hear the cries of freedom coming from the island. The United States is taking concerted action to bolster the cause of the Cuban people,” Biden said at the start of a White House meeting with Cuban Americans in late July.

The upcoming protests on the island are being planned on Facebook by the Archipelago group, which says it has some 20,000 members, many of whom live outside the country.

On Wednesday, Rodriguez, the foreign minister, alleged Facebook had aided the dissidents by allowing groups to simulate a large presence on the island.

Rodriguez told a group of foreign diplomats in Havana that dissidents in Facebook groups had violated the social media platform’s own policies by “altering algorithms, altering the geolocation mechanism to simulate the massive presence in Cuba of people in accounts that are known to reside outside our country and fundamentally in Florida and in the US territory”.

Rodriguez said these practices violated both US and international law. “As has already happened, Facebook could perfectly be, with strict adherence to the laws, sued for these practices against Cuba,” he said.

Facebook, which recently changed its company name to Meta, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Source: News Agencies