US slams Cuba ‘intimidation tactics’ before planned protests

Havana has banned Monday’s planned march, which comes after rare demonstrations broke out in the island country in July.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has condemned what he called “intimidation tactics” employed by the Cuban government in advance of planned protests.

The statement came on Sunday, a day before opposition groups have called for Cubans to take to the streets to demand greater political freedoms and for the release of hundreds of activists jailed after rare protests broke out in the island nation in July.

“We call on the Cuban government to respect Cubans’ rights, by allowing them to peacefully assemble … and by keeping Internet and telecommunication lines open,” Blinken said.

He said the Cuban government had “dismissed opposition supporters from their jobs and threatened dissenters with imprisonment” before the march.

“We strongly condemn these intimidation tactics,” he said, adding Washington “will continue to pursue measures that both support the Cuban people and promote accountability for the Cuban regime’s repression.”

Havana has said Monday’s planned demonstrations are part of a months-long destabilisation campaign by the US.

Responding to Blinken’s comments on Sunday, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told Washington to stay out of Cuban affairs.

“Antony Blinken should learn once and for all that the Cuban government’s sole duty is to its people and rejects, on its behalf, the US interference,” Rodriguez said.

On Friday, authorities arrested Cuban dissident, journalist and human rights campaigner Guillermo Farinas, his family said. Farinas is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the most active political opposition group in the country.

Meanwhile, Yunior Garcia, the 39-year-old playwright who founded Archipelago, the group that is urging Cubans to take to the streets on Monday to protest against the government, told the AFP news agency he had been warned he would be arrested if he went ahead with a plan to make a solo protest march to downtown Havana.

Supporters of the Cuban government prevented Garcia from leaving his home on Sunday, gathering in front of his home chanting “homeland or death, we will win”.

That came after President Miguel Diaz-Canel last week said his supporters were “ready to defend the revolution” in the face of “an imperial strategy [of the US] to try to destroy the revolution”.

Rare protests

Protesters had taken to the streets of Cuba in July, chanting “freedom” and “we are hungry”, decrying the government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy.

The demonstrations were the first of their kind on the island in decades, and were met by a government crackdown in which at least one person was killed, dozens injured and about 1,175 people arrested.

Human rights group Cubalex says about half of those arrested remain behind bars.

Rights observers say the government has continued to stifle dissent, including a decree banning online content seen as attacking “the constitutional, social and economic” rules of the state or that incite demonstrations or other acts “that alter public order”.

The US has imposed a trade embargo on Cuba for decades in a pressure campaign against the governing Communist Party, which came to power in the wake of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Observers say the embargo continues to exact an immense toll on the island’s population.

While former US President Barack Obama sought a historic rapprochement between the two countries, that was rolled back by his successor Donald Trump.

Campaign promises by the Biden administration to re-engage with Cuba have been largely sidelined amid the unrest, with the administration imposing targeted sanctions on Cuban officials and security forces in the wake of the July protests.

General