By Nelson Acosta
HAVANA (Reuters) -Cuba on Monday accused the U.S. government of bearing “direct responsibility” for the protests that rocked the Caribbean island two years ago, marking the largest demonstrations since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.
“The United States has a direct responsibility for the disturbances of July 11 and 12, 2021,” the Communist Party-run Granma newspaper said in a front-page editorial ahead of the anniversary of the protests. It provided no evidence to back the accusations.
The newspaper said people were openly incited and provided with funds from the United States to break the law in acts of robbery and assault – even as Washington strengthened its sanctions while Cuba’s economy struggled due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The editorial also denounced a “campaign of disinformation and slander” through social networks.
“Slander promoted by the White House, related to events it sponsored in 2021, is used as a pretext to maintain a policy of maximum pressure against Cuba,” it said.
This policy, designed by the administration of Donald Trump, was being “severely applied” by the current administration of President Joe Biden, it added.
In July 2021, thousands of Cubans took to the streets across nearly 50 cities in the country shouting “freedom” to protest a deepening economic crisis, the worst in three decades.
Frustrated by long lines for food, public transport, fuel and medicine, more than 140,000 Cubans have since October 2021 migrated to the United States, according to U.S. government figures.
The protests were short-lived and Cuban authorities have since sentenced hundreds to prison on charges ranging from public disorder to sedition, prompting calls of human rights violations from activists.
The U.S. State Department said it was not behind the 2021 protests and reiterated calls for the immediate release of some 700 Cuban political prisoners.
“As the entire world knows, the Cuban people protested for themselves,” a U.S. State Department official said, adding that “the regime continues to violently repress virtually any kind of peaceful public dissent and detains, harasses, and threatens families of detained protesters who dare speak publicly about their detained family members.”
The European Union has also urged the Cuban government to release the protesters.
“More than anything, this editorial reflects the state of relations between the United States and Cuba,” said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a foreign relations expert at the Autonomous University of Madrid. “A climate conducive to at least reducing tensions over the issue has not been built.”
Lopez-Levy said the release of prisoners would be “very difficult” as long as the U.S. maintains hostile policies on some fundamental matters.
Two years after the protests, some Cuban emigres have called for events to commemorate the date. Though additional plain-clothed security officials were seen in some parts of the capital on Monday, Havana’s streets remained quiet.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Additional reporting by Sarah Morland and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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