Cuban protesters who have been taking to the streets after Hurricane Ian damaged the island’s already crumbling power grid could face criminal charges, the Cuban attorney general’s office said Saturday.
In a note published in Grama, the island’s Communist newspaper, prosecutors said they were investigating cases of arson and destruction of state property, blocking streets and “insulting officials and the forces of order”.
In addition, parents of minors who participated in the protests could face charges of endangering children, according to the note.
Anti-government protests in Cuba are usually quickly crushed by police, but Cubans across the island have taken to the streets to complain after Hurricane Ian exacerbated the island’s severe power shortages.
After forming in the southern Caribbean, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba late last month, southwest of La Coloma in the western province of Pinar del Río.
State media said the hurricane’s violent winds and rain killed at least three people and cut power to the entire island.
State media said two of the deaths occurred in Binar del Río, where a woman died when a wall collapsed and a man died when a roof collapsed.
The state-run National Electric System shut down power in Havana to avoid electrocution, death and property damage until the weather improved. But the nationwide blackout was caused by the storm and wasn’t planned.
The storm exacerbated an economic crisis that has plagued Cuba, causing shortages of food, fuel and medicine. Power outages on the island were the norm throughout the summer, leading to rare scattered protests against the government. The protests have picked up after the hurricane made life harder for Cubans who were already struggling.
Often at night, protesters in town bang pots and pans, angry at the government blackout. Some protesters called for power services to be restored, while others called for the Cuban leader to step down.
The latest protests have not reached the scale of July 2021, when thousands of Cubans took to the streets to demand change in what was the largest anti-government demonstration since the 1959 revolution.
Residents of the small city of San Antonio de los Baños lost patience after a few days of government power outages last year. On July 11, 2021, they took to the streets in a rare moment of public dissent on the island.
Cubans across the country were able to live stream and watch the ongoing protests in San Antonio de los Baños — and join in.
Almost immediately, thousands of other Cubans began to demonstrate. Some complained about a lack of food and medicine, while others condemned senior officials and called for greater civil liberties. Unprecedented protests spread to small towns.
While Cuban officials have long blamed U.S. sanctions for Cuba’s plight, in the summer of 2021 protesters were vocal about their own government’s deteriorating living conditions.
Speaking on state television, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel blamed U.S. sanctions for the island’s economic problems, said the protests were the result of a subversive movement from abroad and called for Cuba’s loyalty to the revolution People take back the streets. The state cracks down.
Cuban prosecutors said this summer that nearly 500 people had been convicted and sentenced for the protests, the largest mass trial on the island in decades. For offences including sedition, prison terms range from four to 30 years.