Cuban authorities have shut down internet connections in an apparent effort to prevent protests after thousands of people demonstrated against food shortages, power cuts and coronavirus restrictions.
“There is no internet. None, anywhere. People are trying to use apps,” Isabel, a resident of Havana, said. The London-based NetBlocks Internet Observatory reported that restrictions on social media and messaging in Cuba were continuing on Tuesday.
Communist-run Cuba was one of the last countries in the world to open up to the internet, allowing it on mobile phones only a few years ago. Home broadband remains rare, although state-run telecommunications monopoly ETECSA claims that about 60 per cent of the population has some kind of web access.
Cuba last shut down the internet in November after a few hundred people protested in front of the Culture Ministry calling for greater freedoms.
Since then ETECSA has intermittently yet systematically cut dissidents’ phones and internet connections.
Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuban president and communist party chief, claimed in two televised broadcasts that the anti-government protests on Sunday were fanned through social media from abroad by the US and by Cuban exiles attempting to topple the government.
“In recent weeks, the campaign on social networks against the Cuban revolution has increased,” Diaz-Canel said on Monday. “[It is] trying to create dissatisfaction by manipulating the emotions and feelings in social networks of the problems that the population has.”
The government has said nothing about the communications shutdown, which appears aimed at making it difficult for protesters to organise and other countries to understand what is taking place.
Ned Price, US state department spokesperson, appealed to the Cuban authorities to lift internet restrictions, saying they had been imposed by the government as a response to the protests.
“We call on Cuba’s leaders to demonstrate restraint, to urge respect for the voice of the people by opening all means of communication, both online and offline,” he said.
“Shutting down technology, shutting down information pathways, that does nothing to address the legitimate needs and aspirations of the Cuban people.”
Cuba’s streets have been mostly quiet since Sunday afternoon but at least two small protests have apparently taken place in outlying areas of Havana. There have also been reports of arrests despite the difficulty of being able to confirm them.
Cubalex, a US-based human rights group, said that since Sunday morning it had, in collaboration with journalists and activists, “received information and registered the arrest or disappearance of 148 people, of which 12 have been released”.
“Of the 136 people, it was confirmed that 46 were arrested on July 11 and nine on July 12, the majority were arrested at their homes or leaving them”, the group said.
Cubalex said it had not been able to confirm reports of deaths or serious injuries among the protesters.