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Cuba's president, while blasting U.S. embargo, takes some blame amid protests

“We also have to make a critical analysis of our own problems so we can act, so we can overcome," President Miguel Díaz-Canel said.
Image: Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel
Miguel Diaz-Canel, in Caracas, Venezuela, in July 2019. Carlos Becerra / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel insisted on blaming the United States and an embargo he calls "genocidal" for the huge protests that recently gripped the island, but also recognized that his government was partly to blame.

“We also have to make a critical analysis of our own problems so we can act, so we can overcome, and prevent them from repeating themselves, so we can transform situations,” Díaz-Canel said during a speech on Wednesday.

He also doubled down on previous comments about the protests being orchestrated by the United States. He said the U.S. embargo limits what they can achieve and called it "cruel" and "genocidal."

Some of those who participated, he said, “respond to a foreign plan, that are irreconcilably against the Cuban revolution, and don’t think like Cubans. They think under the guises of the empire," he said, referring to the United States.

He said other groups that were involved in the protests included “delinquents, "unsatisfied people” and “young people.”

Cuba's prime minister, Manuel Marrero, who also spoke Wednesday, said that starting Monday until the end of the year, the government would lift restrictions on the amount of food and medicine that travelers are allowed to bring into the country. This had been a demand on social media among many Cubans using the hashtag #SOSCuba before the protests erupted.

However, Cuba has limited the amount of flights to Cuba, particularly from the United States, in an attempt to reduce the amount of Covid-19 infections circulating on the island. The island has been grappling with a record number of cases and deaths recently.

Thousands spontaneously took to the streets Sunday that have caught the attention of the world after decades of relatively little or no unrest.

The lifting of restrictions on food and medicine is a small step considering the demands that protesters have been making, including calls for an end to over 60 years of communist rule.

Díaz-Canel said Wednesday that the country lacked a “tremendous amount of hard currency so we always have an enormous list of what the country needs.”

The tipping point for many Cubans was the dire economic crisis they are facing that includes acute shortages in food and medicine, increasing prices due to inflation, and 12-hour blackouts in the sweltering heat. Among the many chants Cubans could be heard demanding “freedom,” “we want change,” and “homeland and life.”

Police cracked down on protests that had carried over to Monday, while authorities blocked social media and messaging apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram. On Wednesday people were beginning to access these apps again.

Internationally, calls from human rights groups, the United Nations, and several countries have grown louder, demanding Cuba’s government to be more tolerant of demonstrations and for police to use less force.

Cubans living abroad in Spain, Mexico and other countries have broken out into protests and rallies in support of their relatives back home. At a protest rally in Miami on Wednesday, the heart of the exile community, the group Gente de Zona performed their song “Patria y Vida” or “Homeland and Life” that has become a sort of anthem for those in Cuba demanding liberty. The title of the song is a play on the socialist revolutionary slogan “patria or muerte” or “homeland or death” that Cubans grew up with.

Orlado Matos contributed from Havana, and Carmen Sesin reported from Miami.

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Orlando Matos contributed.