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Cuban police crack down on demonstrators protesting widespread shortages

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN

Cuban police cracked down on protesters in the isolated town of Caimanera, close to the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison, after dozens took to the streets on Saturday demanding better living conditions and freedom.

Videos posted to social media show a crowd protesting in front of government buildings, before riot police arrived and forcibly arrested several demonstrators.

The US Embassy in Havana condemned the crackdown, tweeting on Sunday that security forces “responded violently to peaceful protests in the town of Caimanera, beating citizens for demanding human rights.”

“Cuba also shut down its internet for fear of freedom of expression,” the embassy wrote.

Netblocks, an organization that tracks internet activity, said it appeared the Cuban government had taken down the internet across the entire island as news of the protests spread.

Pro-Cuban government bloggers blamed the protesters uploading videos of the protests for the internet disruptions. However, the Cuban government has a history of taking down the state-provided internet during previous protests, sometimes for several days.

Internet connectivity appeared to be largely restored on Sunday, and Cuban state media Cubadebate said no more protests had occurred.

Cuban officials did not say how many people had been arrested. But activist groups reported at least five people were detained by police.

Cubadebate had claimed on Sunday that the “unusual demonstration” was “initiated by an incident involving a small group of drunk people.” It blamed “counterrevolutionary media” in the United States for trying to portray the protests as the beginning of a large-scale uprising against the communist-run government.

Caimanera is known as “the first trench against imperialism,” as the town lies just across Guantanamo Bay from the US naval base, notorious as the prison where terrorism suspects were tortured and sent to indefinitely await trial.

The town-turned-military-zone is surrounded by guard towers, bomb shelters dug into the hillsides, concealed military encampments and miles of cactus ordered planted by late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

Foreigners and even Cubans need special permission to visit the town because of its proximity to the US base. When CNN was able to visit Caimanera nearly five years ago, residents complained of their isolation but said the government gave them extra rations including milk and meat, considered luxuries by many Cubans.

But even the town hasn’t been spared from widespread shortages that have rocked the rest of the country, residents say in videos posted to social media.

Since mid-April, Cuba has been beset with its most dire fuel shortages in years, prompting comparisons to the severe disruptions Cubans suffered after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Lines stretch for blocks even at gas stations where there has been no fuel for days; late night fist fights have broken out between drivers accusing one another of cutting the line. There are also increasing scarcities of food and medicine.

Cuba’s government has blamed US economic sanctions for the disruptions, but also conceded in state-run media that countries which traditionally supply the island with oil have not been sending promised fuel.

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