Cuba has restricted access to social media and messaging platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, global internet watch company NetBlocks said, following the biggest anti-government protests in decades.
Thousands of Cubans took part in protests across the communist-led country on Sunday to protest a deep economic crisis that has resulted in commodity shortages and power cuts. They were also protesting against the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on civil liberties.
London-based NetBlocks said on its website on Tuesday that Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram in Cuba had been partially disrupted on Monday and Tuesday.
“The pattern of restrictions seen in Cuba indicates an ongoing crackdown on messaging platforms used to organize and share information about protests in real time,” NetBlocks director Alp Toker said. “At the same time, some connectivity is preserved to maintain a semblance of normalcy. “
The Cuban government said the protests were orchestrated by US-funded counterrevolutionaries, manipulating frustration over an economic crisis largely caused by the decades-old US trade embargo.
The protests, rare in a country where public dissent is tightly controlled, had largely ended on Sunday evening, as security forces were deployed in the streets and President Miguel Diaz-Canel called on government supporters to go out and fight to defend their revolution.
But another protest erupted Monday night in La Guinera, a southern suburb of Havana, where a man died and several others, including members of the security forces, were hospitalized with injuries, state media reported on Tuesday.
He didn’t say what caused the death. No other deaths or injuries have been officially confirmed so far.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of La Guinera, shouting slogans such as “Down with Communism” and “Freedom for the people of Cuba,” according to two residents and video footage seen by Reuters news agency . Some started throwing stones at the security forces who eventually fired back, said Waldo Herrera, a 49-year-old resident.
“I think the Communists have lost control, they will not have a solution to this situation,” he said. “People are tired of so much humiliation, so much repression.”
A Reuters witness saw dozens of people carrying sticks leave La Guinera on Monday evening.
Activists say the government is using rapid reaction brigades – government-organized civilian recruit gangs – to counter protesters.
Disrupted mobile internet
They also accuse the government of trying to disrupt communications. Introduced just over two years ago, the mobile internet has been a key driver of the protests, giving Cubans a greater platform to voice their frustrations and allowing the word to pass quickly when people are on the streets. .
In the capital, mobile internet outages have been regular and atypical since Sunday, according to Reuters witnesses.
Facebook Inc, owner of Instagram and WhatsApp, said it was concerned about the restriction of its services in Cuba, in a statement to Reuters on Tuesday evening.
“We oppose shutdowns, limitation and other internet disruptions that limit our community’s debate. We hope that connectivity will be restored as soon as possible so that Cubans can communicate with their family and friends, ”said Joe Osborne, a spokesperson for Facebook.
When asked if the government was intentionally restricting internet connections, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told a press briefing that the situation was “complicated”. He said power outages could affect telecommunications services and that “Cuba would never give up the right to defend itself.”
Telegram did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Twitter Inc said it found no blocking of its service.
“Our weapon is the Internet. If they deprive us of the Internet, we are not armed, ”said Gino Ocumares, a resident of Havana, as he tried, unsuccessfully, to connect to the Internet on a government WiFi hotspot. . “The government doesn’t want people to see the truth. “
” Provocation “
The protest in La Guinera was led by “anti-social and criminal elements” who attempted to reach the police station with the aim of attacking its officials and damaging infrastructure, the Cuban news agency said.
When security forces arrested them, they ransacked homes, set fire to containers and damaged suburban electrical wiring, attacking those responsible with stones and other objects, the agency said.
State media also reported on Tuesday that Raul Castro, who resigned as head of the ruling Cuban Communist Party in April, attended a political bureau meeting on Sunday to address the “provocations.”
Diaz-Canel said in April he would continue to consult with Castro on matters of the utmost importance.
The Cuban Episcopal Conference said in a statement that it feared that the response to protests against legitimate concerns was “standing still” rather than an attempt to resolve them, or even a counterproductive hardening of positions.
Reaction to the protest in Latin America has been divided along ideological lines, with the Mexican president accusing the US embargo of fomenting unrest, while Chile and Peru urged the government to allow pro-protest protests. democracy.
US President Joe Biden said on Monday that the United States “stands firmly alongside the Cuban people in asserting their universal rights.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the Havana government to open up all means of communication, online and offline.
“Shutting down technology, shutting off information channels – it does nothing to meet the legitimate needs and aspirations of the Cuban people,” Price said at a press conference on Tuesday.