Biden Administration Vows Only to 'Condemn' Cuba Violence As Havana Accuses U.S.

The United States on Monday vowed only to "condemn" violence in Cuba at the anti-government protests that have swept across the country, shortly before Havana accused Washington of "betting on" the unrest.

The communist Caribbean Island has been seeing its biggest anti-government protests in decades. Thousands marched on Havana's Malecon promenade and elsewhere on the island on Sunday to demand President Miguel Diaz-Canel step down, shouting slogans like "freedom" and "unite." There were also a smaller number of pro-government protesters that were chanting "Fidel," referring to Fidel Castro, Cuba's former long-time communist head of state.

Special forces jeeps with machines on the back were seen through the capital on Sunday night, with a heavy police presence even hours after most of the demonstrators were home after the 9 p.m. curfew.

The demonstrations take place against the backdrop of the country's raging COVID-19 epidemic and its worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, its old ally. U.S. sanctions imposed during Donald Trump's tenure as president have further crippled the Latin American country's economy. Cubans have taken to the streets in Havana, as well as San Antonio de los Baños and Palma Soriano, to complain about food shortages and high prices amid the COVID-19 crisis. Many Cubans in Miami also were out to protest against the communist government.

In a tweet early on Monday, Jake Sullivan, U.S. national security advisor, said: "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."

Cuba's Director General for U.S. Affairs Carlos de Cossio hit back on Twitter, writing: "[The] US State Department and its officials, involved to their necks in promoting social and political instability in #Cuba, should avoid expressing hypocritical concern for a situation they have been betting on. Cuba is and will continue to be a peaceful country, contrary to the US."

Other Biden administration officials showed their support for the anti-government protests. "Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need," tweeted Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for state for Western Hemisphere affairs, on Sunday night.

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also applauded the rare anti-government protests, as Díaz-Canel blamed the U.S. for the unrest in a nationally televised speech.

"Florida supports the people of Cuba as they take to the streets against the tyrannical regime in Havana," DeSantis tweeted. "The Cuban dictatorship has repressed the people of Cuba for decades & is now trying to silence those who have the courage to speak out against its disastrous policies."

Earlier that afternoon, Díaz-Canel accused Washington of "provoking a social uprising" in an alleged plot to legitimize a military intervention. "We are not going to hand over the sovereignty or the independence of the people," he said. "There are many revolutionaries in this country who are willing to give our lives, we are willing to do anything, and we will be in the streets fighting."

"The order to combat has been given. Revolutionaries need to be on the streets," Díaz-Canel concluded, not making concessions to protesters.

State run media has said that Diaz-Canel will address the nation again at 9 a.m. local time on Monday.

 Little Havana Community Reacts To Protests
Protesters gather in front of Versailles restaurant to show support for the people in Cuba, who took to the streets there to protest on July 11, 2021 in Miami, Florida. The United States has vowed only to “condemn” violence in Cuba at the anti-government protests that have swept across the country, shortly before Havana accused Washington of “betting on” the unrest. Joe Raedle