Protesters attend a pro-government rally in Havana, Cuba, on July 11, 2021. Thousands of Cubans took the streets on Sunday to protest against Cuba's government, in what is considered the first major protest in the last 60 years. Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/EPA-EFE
July 12 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Monday called on Cuba leaders to listen to protesters on the island nation who demonstrated Sunday with calls for economic reform and a more significant response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden was chided by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the son of Cuban immigrants, on Sunday to respond to the protests.
"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 his statement.
The anti-government protests were the largest seen in decades in the communist country, as people took to the streets in the capital of Havana and other locations as Cuba continued to suffer from a deepening economic crisis and COVID-19.
Inventario, a website that covers Cuba, said more than 50 protests were counted in towns and cities.
"The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights," Biden said. "Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. 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 Cuban government, in turn, has blamed the United States for acting as foreign agitators.
"We Cubans know perfectly well that the U.S. government is the main responsible for the current situation in Cuba," the government said in a translated Twitter post. "[Cuba] and its streets belong to the revolutionaries."