Cuba Eases Food and Drug Import Restrictions After Mass Protests
(Bloomberg) -- Cuba’s communist rulers said they’ll ease restrictions on food and medicine imports and pledged to “learn” from the rare display of public anger in mass protests over the weekend.
The government will temporarily lift limits and tariffs on food, hygiene items such as shampoo and soap, and medicine brought to the island by travelers, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said Wednesday, in an event broadcast on local TV. From now until Dec. 31, 2021, the only limits will be those imposed by the airlines, he said.
The concession is designed to help alleviate the shortages that stoked the unrest, in which thousands of people took to the streets to demand freedom and food, amid rolling electricity blackouts and soaring inflation. The communist island saw its economy shrink 11% last year amid the pandemic, the worst performance since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Many Cubans depend on friends and family abroad -- particularly in the U.S. -- to bring them basic goods which are hard to obtain at home. The government has for decades blamed the U.S. trade embargo for shortages, but it also imposes limits on, or taxes, items that Cubans can carry into the country.
During the same televised event, President Miguel Diaz-Canel acknowledged the shortcomings of the 62-year-old regime.
“We have to extract experience from these disturbances and critically analyze our problems to keep them from repeating,” he said, according to state-run media outlet Cuba Debate.
He also said that some people’s grievances were “legitimate, because they have unsatisfied aspirations” that “have not always received the appropriate attention.”
The protests triggered a crackdown by the authorities, and a heightened police presence in some areas. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, citing Cuban activists, say more than 200 people are detained or unaccounted for from the protests.
In addition, the government has been limiting internet access on the tightly-controlled island. NetBlocker, a privately run data monitoring firm, said many social media sites -- including Facebook and WhatsApp -- have been blocked since Sunday. “Real-time internet metrics confirm that access to YouTube is now also limited,” the group wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.
Diaz-Canel said that there had been barely any protests on Tuesday and Wednesday.
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