Thousands of Cubans took their dissatisfaction with the government to the streets in one of the biggest demonstrations against the dictatorship in decades. The island’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, called the protesters “mercenaries” and responded accordingly: WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Telegram were blocked on Sunday (11), the day the protests had the greatest popular support.
Cuban Telecommunications State Blocks Messengers
Data from NetBlocks, an organization that maps internet activity in countries where freedom of expression is at risk, such as Cuba, shows that the messaging apps had access restrictions in the sunday (11).
Who made it difficult to access the WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook and Instagram servers over the weekend was the state-owned ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA), owner of the only cell phone operator in the country, Cubacel.
In all, the front-end and back-end of 50-platform servers were limited or completely blocked by the state-owned company. The most affected were Telegram and Facebook, with connection latency increases of 90% and 87%, respectively.
Internet blocking has already been a tactic used on other occasions by the government to reduce the circulation of information and adherence to demonstrations: it was used when Cubans protested for greater artistic freedom in November 2020.
Cuba has biggest protest against dictatorship in decades
Over the weekend, thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the Díaz-Canel regime. Protesters claim improved economy and treatment of patients with COVID-19; Cuba is experiencing the worst moment in the pandemic, with shortages of food and medicines to treat patients with the new coronavirus.
With travel restrictions, the island had a decline in tourism — one of its main economic pillars. Another strategic sector is exports: the biggest commodity, sugar, was harmed by crops below expectations.
This led Cubans to demand an end to the dictatorship in the country. But police took action, arresting at least 100 activists who took part in the protests, according to the Cubalex legal aid center.
Network blackout and arrests take Cubans to police stations
The internet blackout caused by the government in prisons led hundreds of Cubans to the doors of police stations across the country, looking for information about relatives and friends detained during the demonstrations.
Family members of arrested protesters are turning up at police stations in Cuba and demanding their release. pic.twitter.com/064lpD6sKQ
— Kyle Glen (@KyleJGlen) July 12, 2021
Cuban Ariel González told the BBC World that he was at a police station near his home to find out what happened to his son, a 21-year-old student arrested by the police.
“I knew he had been arrested because some of his friends who witnessed the scene told me. At the police station, they [os policiais] they told me they couldn’t tell me where my son was taken because he was arrested by another ‘institution’,” González said. The Cuban refers to the presence of non-uniform police officers at the protests.
President Díaz-Canel blames US sanctions for Cuba’s food and medicine shortages. The Cuban chancellor said that the demonstrations are financed by the Americans.
Joe Biden, president of the United States, says he is on the side of the Cubans, and has called for the rulers of the neighboring island to listen to the demands of the streets.
With information: BBC News and NetBlocks