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Sunday’s protests, the largest the communist island has seen since the 1990s, come amid widespread frustration over a crippled economy, severe food shortages and as the coronavirus pandemic pushes the nation’s health-care system to its limit.
“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,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Monday.
“The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected,” the president added.
Biden called on the Cuban regime to “hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment.”
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President Díaz-Canel Bermudez said in a national address on Sunday that his regime was “prepared to do anything,” to quell the protests, according to a report from The Washington Post. “We will be battling in the streets,” he said, adding that the United States was in part to blame for the widespread discontent in Cuba.
On Monday, he appeared alongside members of his government and blamed U.S. trade sanctions for hampering Cuba’s growth.
National security advisor Jake Sullivan condemned any threat of violence against peaceful protestors writing on Twitter, “The U.S. supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights.”
Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted: “We are deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in #Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence.”
The discontent among Cubans sparked protests in Miami as well as in Spain and Mexico.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called on the Biden administration to end the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.
“The truth is that if one wanted to help Cuba, the first thing that should be done is to suspend the blockade of Cuba as the majority of countries in the world are asking,” Lopez Obrador told a news conference.
“That would be a truly humanitarian gesture,” he added. “No country in the world should be fenced in, blockaded.”