HAVANA – The Cuban Foreign Ministry summoned hundreds of foreign diplomats to a meeting Wednesday and accused the US government of instigating a planned opposition rally that local authorities banned.
The protest march scheduled for Monday will coincide with the reopening of the country after 20 months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The socialist government is keen to prevent a repeat of the biggest street protests of the past two decades that took officials by surprise in July and also attributed in part to US economic sanctions and US-based enemies.
“In no way will we allow permanent US aggression … to generate conditions of internal subversion … to spoil the party,” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told diplomats.
Starting Monday, Cuba will abandon most restrictions on commercial flights, school attendance, transportation, restaurants and shops. Daily cases of COVID-19 have dropped dramatically in recent weeks thanks to a mass vaccination schedule.
The government also plans to celebrate Havana’s 502th anniversary.
Rodriguez said the planned protest is an “operation” by the US government and officials to eliminate the Cuban system.
He said US sanctions against Cuba seek to suffocate the island, generating social protests and creating the image of a “failed state”, regardless of the “suffering” caused to the population.
No US diplomats attended the meeting. The US Embassy has been open since 2015, but operations were drastically curtailed during the administration of former US President Donald Trump.
Monday’s march was announced by a largely online group called Archipelago, led by playwright Yunior Garcia Aguilera, who denied funding or direction from outside Cuba. He said the march is meant to be peaceful and is asking the authorities to release the people arrested on 11 and 12 July and to guarantee more human rights.
Thousands of Cubans took to the streets in July, protesting power outages, shortages, high prices and long lines and denouncing the government. The government did not say how many were arrested, but some human rights organizations said hundreds of people were arrested or disappeared after participating.
The government temporarily shut down the mobile Internet service; many of the protesters had apparently learned from the demonstrations on social media.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel initially responded by blaming US economic sanctions, the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and a social media campaign by Cuban-American groups, although he later acknowledged some responsibility of Cuban leaders.