Thousands of Cubans took part in demonstrations, chanting: "Down with the dictatorship," as President Miguel Diaz-Canel blamed the uprising on the US pursuing a "policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country."

People demonstrate, some holding Cuban and US National flags and placards, during a protest against the Cuban government in Miami on July 11, 2021..
People demonstrate, some holding Cuban and US National flags and placards, during a protest against the Cuban government in Miami on July 11, 2021.. (AFP)

Cuba has blamed a US "policy of economic suffocation" for unprecedented anti-government protests, as US President Joe Biden backed called to end "decades of repression" on the communist island.

Thousands of Cubans took part in demonstrations on Sunday, chanting: "Down with the dictatorship," as President Miguel Diaz-Canel urged supporters to confront demonstrators.

The anti-government rallies erupted spontaneously in several cities as the country endures its worst economic crisis in 30 years, with chronic shortages of electricity and food.

Diaz-Canel on Monday blamed the uprising on the United States pursuing a "policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country."

READ MORE: Rare anti-government protests in Cuba as pandemic stirs emotions

Biden calls on Cuba to 'hear' protesters

Biden urged Cuba's communist government to "hear" protesters demanding an end to "repression" and poverty.

"We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime," Biden said in a statement.

"The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves."

The strongly-worded statement was sure to anger Cuba's leaders, who say Washington is stirring up the rare mass street protests in the authoritarian country.

The Biden administration — focused on domestic challenges including battling Covid-19 and passing infrastructure legislation, while also withdrawing from the 20-year war in Afghanistan — has largely ignored Cuba until now.

But the island has significant weight on US politics, with Cuban Americans a formidable presence in the important electoral state of Florida.

READ MORE: Hit by US sanctions, Cuba and Iran join hands to secure Covid-19 vaccine

Dozens of demonstrations

The only authorised gatherings in Cuba are usually events of the ruling Communist Party, but according to the data journalism site Inventario, a total of 40 demonstrations took place Sunday.

Police used tear gas to disperse crowds, and at least ten people were arrested, while officers used plastic pipes to beat protesters, AFP journalists witnessed.

US-Cuba relations have been particularly fraught since then-president Donald Trump reinforced the blockade following a historic but temporary easing of tensions under Barack Obama between 2014 and 2016.

The tougher measures, left unchanged by Biden, and the effects of the coronavirus epidemic contributed to Cuba's economy declining 11 percent in 2020.

Public anger in the one-party state has been growing, driven by long food lines, worsening power shortages and a critical shortage of medicines.

READ MORE: Era ends as Cuba's Raul Castro retires leaving Diaz-Canel in charge

Source: TRTWorld and agencies