Protests have broken out in Cuba for the second night in a row over power outages in the wake of Hurricane Ian, with the continuing shortages reportedly prompting Havana to make a rare appeal to the United States for emergency assistance.
The unrest on the streets of Havana on Thursday and Friday night represented some of the largest demonstrations in the country since thousands of Cubans took to the streets in virtually unprecedented anti-government protests in July 2021.
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In one neighbourhood, Playa in the city’s west, several hundred people gathered, chanting “turn on the lights” as well as anti-government slogans against President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
The neighbourhood, like several others across the Caribbean Island nation, has been without electricity since Hurricane Ian slammed into the island on Tuesday, temporarily knocking out Cuba’s entire power grid.
Officials said on Friday that power had been restored to about 60 per cent of Havana’s two million people.
At least two people were killed in Cuba when the storm hit. Another 20 people attempting to migrate by boat from Cuba to the US were also still missing after their vessel sank during the storm, which killed at least 23 people in Florida before making its second US landfall in South Carolina on Friday.
Meanwhile, anxiety has grown in areas in Cuba still in the dark, with social media showing several smaller protests in Havana neighbourhoods beyond Playa on Friday.
“It’s like being in hell,” protester Carlos Felipe Garcia, who marched shirtless and covered in sweat, told Reuters news agency.
“That’s why we’re out on the street, and we’ll keep coming out.”
Protesters in Playa were at one point met with several truckloads of security forces, who blocked them from marching down a main boulevard, according to Reuters, although no clashes were reported.
Internet watchdogs have also accused authorities of blocking internet communications in an attempt to stem the unrest.
Officials have said they hoped to restore power to all of Havana by the end of the weekend, although the outlook for large swaths of the country still in the dark outside of the capital remained unclear.
The situation has reportedly prompted Cuba’s government to make a rare request for emergency assistance from US President Joe Biden’s administration, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
It was not immediately clear if the US would offer the sought aid, although the newspaper reported, citing a review of email communications, that Washington had assessed that Cuban authorities would place priorities on hospitals, water pumping facilities, sanitation and other critical infrastructure if the Biden administration were to provide assistance.
Cuba remains subject to a US trade embargo dating back to the Fidel Castro-led Cuban Revolution and the subsequent rise of the current communist government on the island.
Upon taking office, Biden had promised to re-engage with Havana, but pivoted following Cuba’s crackdown on protesters during the July 2021 unrest, with Washington instead imposing sanctions on Cuban officials.
Havana said the rare protests – in which residents decried food, fuel and medicine shortages – were the result of US meddling.