Protests continue in Cuba after days without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian

Ismael Francisco/AP

Cubans in several neighborhoods in Havana and other cities took to the streets again on Friday, banging pots and pans and demanding the restoration of electrical service as they had done Thursday, after a failure in Cuba’s dilapidated power grid left the country in near total darkness since Tuesday.

Cuba’s Electrical Union blamed Hurricane Ian, which battered western Cuba on Tuesday, for the blackout. The company said Thursday it had restored the service in some places, but providing power to the entire nation will take much longer. After several hours without electricity, which for many also meant no running water, hundreds of Cubans said they had enough.

“Turn on the power!” a group of people, mostly women, chanted while they blocked the Calzada del Cerro, a busy Havana avenue, late Thursday afternoon. With her fridge leaking water, food spoiled, and facing mosquitoes and the heat, a woman who asked not to be identified told the Miami Herald she decided to join the protest.

“Everyone is tired,” a man is heard saying in one of the videos. “Here, we don’t have revolution but... repression.”

After the crowd started getting attention and grew, the lights in that area suddenly came back on.

But as that protest fizzled, others started to pop up around the city.

Videos circulating on social media showed crowds protesting in Arroyo Naranjo and San Francisco de Paula, in the province of Havana. In San Francisco de Paula, a group of people sat in the street banging pots and pans; known as cacerolazos. There were reports of cacerolazos in other Havana neighborhoods like Nuevo Vedado, Marianao and Boyeros, and in the city of Cárdenas in Matanzas.

Early Friday morning, independent news outlet Cubanet reported that residents were banging pots in the Havana towns of Guanabacoa and La Palma. Independent journalist Ismario Rodríguez said a similar protest took place in towns of Ayestarán and 19 de Mayo. Several social media users also reported people banging pots in Santos Suárez, another Havana neighborhood.

As the protests went on, images of heavy police deployment also started to circulate as well as reports of internet service disruptions. Several state media websites, including Granma and Cubadebate, could not be accessed from abroad.

“Confirmed: Metrics show a near-total collapse of internet traffic from Cuba amid reports of major protests over power cuts and poor conditions exacerbated by Hurricane Ian, with security forces deployed; incident likely to limit the free flow of information,” Netblock, the internet’s observatory tracking network shutdowns, said on Twitter.

The Internet Outage Detection and Analysis project at Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as Cloudflare Radar and Doug Madory, an internet analyst at Kentik, confirmed a complete drop-off in Cuba internet traffic around 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

“Nationwide service is interrupted,” an employee from Cuba’s state telecommunications company ETECSA said in audio published by Cuban independent journalist Luz Escobar.

The service was restored around 3:10 a.m. Friday, Madory said.

On Friday, residents of Puentes Grandes, Marianao, Guanabacoa and La Palma banged pots and blocked some streets.

Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma said Friday that workers from the Electrical Union managed to connect the western and eastern grids on Thursday evening and that some power stations were in service around the country. Nevertheless, state news outlet Cubadebate said blackouts were expected in most provinces.

Anger had been brewing since authorities first blamed Hurricane Ian for the collapse of the power grid on Tuesday afternoon. But later, Cuban state media reported that the failure was due to a broken cable, suggesting the deterioration of the system also played a part in what officials called “an exceptional condition” leading to “zero generation” of electricity.

The entire island lost power, even Holguín, on the country’s eastern side, which is on the opposite end of the island from where Ian hit. On Wednesday night, residents of Libertad, a neighborhood in Holguín, were outside their houses banging pots, according to a video shared with the Herald.

“We are all burned out, more than 30 hours without electricity. We do not understand why because there was no hurricane here,” the person who recorded the video said. “We also don’t have running water. The discontent runs high.”

The Herald is not publishing the source’s name nor the video, in which many of those protesting can be clearly identified, to protect them from retaliation by local authorities.

Despite laws and regulations recently passed by the government to punish public criticism of the authorities, several Cubans took to social media to vent their frustrations and question the government’s lack of response to the devastation left by the hurricane.

Activist Diasniurka Salcedo Verdecia, whose family home was destroyed in the storm, questioned the extensive media coverage of Cuba’s leader Miguel Díaz-Canel’s visit to the city of Pinar del Río, which suffered severe damage.

“It is very outrageous to see how you, sir, pose for a photo when there are lots of people without homes, without power, without water, without a place to sleep,” Salcedo said. “You had the nerve to tell the Cuban people that we have to help each other. Where are the resources? Why do the people have to wait for more donations to arrive?”

Cuban actor Ulyk Anello, who said he had been without electricity for three days, also blamed Díaz-Canel for the situation.

“Resign, hand this over,” he said in a video published on social media. “This system does not work. My children’s food is rotting, and you’re not going to give it back to me. Why don’t you leave already?”

El Nuevo Herald staff writer Sarah Moreno contributed to this report.