Rare demonstrations spurred by a deepening economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic rock Cuba in recent days.
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called on Cuba to release protesters and several journalists arrested during days of rare demonstrations in the Caribbean nation, condemning the use of excessive use of force by security personnel.
In a statement on Friday, five days after protesters first took to the streets amid unrest over shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the government’s handling COVID-19, Bachelet condemned the government response.
One person has died and at least 100 people have reportedly been arrested since massive protests began on Sunday.
“It is particularly worrying that these include individuals allegedly held incommunicado and people whose whereabouts are unknown,” Bachelet said in a statement. “All those detained for exercising their rights must be promptly released.”
Bachelet called for “an independent, transparent, effective” investigation into the death and for those responsible to be held to account.
She also urged Cuban authorities to ensure internet access is fully restored after it was cut for several days earlier this week. Access to social media and messaging services have also been restricted during the protests.
While Cuban leaders have said the unrest has been fomented – and funded – by the United States, which they accuse of using social media to exploit hardships caused by US sanctions, President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Wednesday for the first time acknowledged that government shortcomings have also played a role.
He said the government must “carry out a critical analysis of our problems in order to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero announced on Wednesday that the government would waive custom fees and size limits on food, medicine and other essential items for travellers entering the custom, in a minor apparent concession to protesters.