HAVANA, Oct. 1 (Portal) – Crews restored power to more neighborhoods across Havana on Saturday after a second day of protests over ongoing power outages in the Cuban capital, including some of the largest demonstrations since widespread anti-government rallies in July 2021 here.
At least one of Friday night’s protests in the western coastal district of Playa swelled to several hundred people chanting “turn on the lights” and slogans denigrating President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
At one point, the group began chanting for freedom, or “Libertad” in Spanish, as protesters marched through a dark, densely populated neighborhood that has been without power since Hurricane Ian struck on Tuesday.
Reports on social media showed small protests had flared up again on Saturday afternoon in scattered locations across Havana and just outside the city. The largely peaceful demonstrations appeared to be confined to places where power had not yet been restored.
The majority of townspeople, whose power was restored, did not protest on Friday or Saturday.
“The power is gradually coming back, and that’s a good thing,” said Jorge Mario Gonzalez, a 57-year-old postal worker in Havana. He said the power came back on at his home on Friday.
“The government is trying very hard but cannot please everyone. We have so many problems.”
Ian cut power to the entire country of 11 million as it plowed through western Cuba earlier this week. Early Saturday, officials said more than 82% of customers in Havana, a city of more than 2 million people, had power restored, but those still groping in the dark had grown increasingly concerned.
“It’s like hell,” said Carlos Felipe Garcia, who marched shirtless to the protests in Playa on Friday night, drenched in sweat. “That’s why we’re out on the street, and we’ll always come out.”
Officials said on Friday they hoped to turn lights back on in most parts of Havana by the end of the weekend – and appeared on the route on Saturday afternoon. City officials said protests sparked by the blackouts had hampered recovery efforts and warned of roadblocks and vandalism.
As the Playa demonstration gathered momentum late Friday, it was hit by several truckloads of security forces in black berets, who blocked the main boulevard and prevented protesters from advancing, according to a Portal witness.
Later, an equally large group of hundreds of government supporters, chanting “I am Fidel” – a reference to the late former leader Fidel Castro – followed the protesters on an adjacent street. The men, many in pants and T-shirts, were armed with sticks, baseball bats and scrap wood.
No clashes or arrests were observed.
Street protests in communist-ruled Cuba are very rare. On July 11, 2021, anti-government rallies shook the island, the largest such demonstrations since Castro’s 1959 revolution.
Internet communications in Havana appeared to collapse again for the second night on Friday as protests flared, rendering cell phone calls and messaging impossible until around 4am Saturday.
“The internet was disrupted again in Cuba, around the same time as yesterday,” said Alp Toker, director of internet surveillance company NetBlocks. “The timings provide further evidence that the shutdowns are being implemented as a measure to suppress coverage of the protests.”
The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment on the situation.
When the demonstrators marched in Playa, the power suddenly went back on in some apartment blocks.
“When people are protesting, yes, they turn on the lights,” said a local resident, Andres Mora, pointing to a recently lit building. “But our children’s food has already rotted and they have nothing to eat.”
The ongoing power outages in Cuba are particularly worrying for many residents, as acquiring basic necessities – including food, fuel and medicines – often means standing in line for hours under the hot Caribbean sun.
Outside of Havana, much of the island remained in darkness as work teams continued to repair utility poles and wires and remove trees from roads.
The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday that the Cuban government made a rare request for emergency assistance to US President Joe Biden’s administration in the wake of the hurricane.
Reporting by Dave Sherwood, Mario Fuentes, Alexandre Meneghini and Nelson Gonzalez in Havana; Additional reporting from Nelson Acosta in Havana and Kanishka Singh in Washington; Edited by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis
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