U.S. stands with Cuban people in call for freedom, relief from pandemic: Biden 

in July 12th, 2021

FILE PHOTO: People hold Cuba's national flag during protests against and in support of the government, amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Havana, Cuba July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States stands with the people of Cuba in their call for freedom and relief from the coronavirus pandemic and decades of repression, President Joe Biden said on Monday.

Thousands of Cubans joined street protests from Havana to Santiago on Sunday in the biggest anti-government demonstrations on the Communist-run island in decades. They chanted "freedom" and called for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down.

"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 in a statement.

The protests erupted amid Cuba's worst economic crisis since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, its old ally, and more recently a record surge in coronavirus infections, with people denouncing shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the authorities' handling of the pandemic.

"The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected," Biden said.

"The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves."

Shortly before Biden issued his statement, Diaz-Canel on Monday blamed U.S. sanctions, which were tightened in recent years, for economic woes such as medicine shortages and power outages that fueled unusual protests this weekend.