Cuba's President Says 'Cuban-American Mafia' Ignited Protests Through Social Media

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel recently said the "Cuban-American Mafia" ignited protests around the island through social media.

Thousands of Cubans are protesting against the nation's Communist government amid a major economic crisis in one of the largest demonstrations in decades. Citizens are taking to the streets in areas such as the capital of Havana to protest food shortages and high prices as COVID-19 cases surge, the Associated Press reported. Díaz-Canel said "the campaign against Cuba was growing on social media in the last weeks."

"As if pandemic outbreaks had not existed all over the world, the Cuban-American mafia, paying very well on social networks to influencers and YouTubers, has created a whole campaign...and has called for demonstrations across the country," Díaz-Canel told reporters.

He blamed the alleged social media campaign against Cuba for creating "inconformity, dissatisfaction by manipulating emotions and feelings." Díaz-Canel also said U.S. sanctions imposed during former President Donald Trump's administration are the reason behind the country's current economic situation.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel
Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel said the "Cuban-American mafia" ignited widespread protests around the country on social media. In this photo, Díaz-Canel poses during a state visit to Mexico at Palacio Nacional on October 17, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico. Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Large contingents of Cuban police patrolled the capital of Havana on Monday following protests around the island nation.

Many young people took part in the Sunday protests in Havana, which disrupted traffic until police moved in after several hours and broke up the march when a few protesters threw rocks.

That demonstration and others in communities around the tightly controlled country were one of the biggest displays of anti-government sentiment in decades, and authorities appeared determined to put a stop to it. Internet service was also spotty, possibly indicating an effort to prevent protesters from communicating with each other.

Díaz-Canel's Monday comments came in a nationally televised appearance in which his entire Cabinet was also present.

In a statement, U.S. President Joe Biden said Cuban protesters were asserting their basic rights.

''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,'' Biden said.

The U.S. urges the Cuban government to serve their people ''rather than enriching themselves,'' Biden said.

In the Havana protest, police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted, "Freedom!" "Enough!" and "Unite!" One motorcyclist pulled out a U.S. flag, but it was snatched from him by others.

"We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. That's why I'm here," one middle-aged protester told the Associated Press. He declined to identify himself for fear of being arrested later.

Later, about 300 pro-government protesters arrived with a large Cuban flag, shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Some assaulted an AP videojournalist, smashing his camera. AP photojournalist Ramón Espinosa was then beaten by a group of police officers in uniforms and civilian clothes; he suffered a broken nose and an eye injury.

Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as it suffers the consequences of U.S. sanctions imposed by Trump's administration.

An official in the Biden administration tweeted support for Sunday's demonstrations.

"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 of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Cuba's director-general for U.S. affairs, Carlos F. de Cossio, dismissed Chung's remarks in his own tweet: "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."

The demonstration grew to a few thousand in the vicinity of Galeano Avenue and the marchers pressed on despite a few charges by police officers and tear gas barrages. People standing on many balconies along the central artery in the Centro Habana neighborhood applauded the protesters passing by. Others joined in the march.

Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon.

About 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed.

AP journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in civilian clothes.

"The people came out to express themselves freely, and they are repressing and beating them," the Rev. Jorge Luis Gil, a Roman Catholic priest, said while standing at a street corner in Centro Habana.

Demonstrations were also held elsewhere on the island, including in the small town of San Antonio de los Banos, where people protested power outages and were visited by Díaz-Canel. He entered a few homes, where he took questions from residents.

Government Supporters Against Cuban Protesters
Government supporters shout slogans as anti-government protesters march in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Ismael Francisco/AP Photo