Protests Erupt in Cuba Over Government Response to Hurricane Ian

While government distribution centers often display empty shelves and turn Cubans away, a thriving black market for basic foodstuffs has flourished, for the few who can afford it.

“The chicken is given to you every two and a half months, if you get it, and you even have to sell your clothes to be able to buy it, because it is very expensive, and on top of that it is now going bad” because there is no power, said a woman protesting in Havana on Thursday, who did not want to provide her name for fear of government retribution.

Whether the protests would continue Friday remained to be seen. Government security forces were deployed in the three places where demonstrations had already occurred, and telecommunication networks and the internet were gradually being restored Friday morning.

A “near total collapse of internet traffic” was reported on Thursday night by NetBlocks, a London-based internet monitoring organization. While the internet had been down in Cuba earlier in the week because of the storm, it was gradually being restored before protests erupted. In Havana, the internet was restored Friday morning after a blackout of about seven hours.

Hurricane Ian slammed into the western section of the Caribbean island on Tuesday as a powerful Category 3 storm, bringing winds of up to 125 miles per hour, dumping several inches of rain and causing major flooding. At least two deaths were linked to the storm.

The biggest damage was to Cuba’s power grid, telecommunications network and its agricultural sector, according to state media. While telecommunications networks were gradually being restored by Wednesday, as the storm moved away from the island and the government began relief efforts, blackouts remained a problem across the country.

But by Thursday, Cubans were growing impatient, setting off the demonstrations despite likely repercussions.

The government’s heavy-handed response to last year’s protests instilled fear across Cuba and put an end to the demonstrations. Many activists said they were too afraid to return to the streets. Others fled the island, becoming part of the largest exodus from Cuba to the United States in recorded history, with nearly 200,000 Cubans intercepted by American border patrol agents this year.

In interviews, many Cuban migrants arriving to the United States said they were fleeing political repression and dire economic and social conditions on the island, where beside food shortages, the country’s once-storied medical system is under strain.