SEOUL, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- North Korean state media on Thursday blamed the United States for fomenting anti-government protests in Cuba last month, saying that Washington was "clearly" behind the demonstrations.
Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on July 11 in the largest demonstrations on the communist island in decades, expressing anger and frustration over shortages of food and medicine, frequent power outages and the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. The protesters called for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down.
Washington reacted with support for the the Cuban demonstrators and U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States "stand[s] 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."
The North Korean article Thursday, credited to international affairs analyst Kim Yun Mi, blamed U.S. policy for the dire conditions in Cuba.
"It is well known that the U.S. has made every vicious attempt for several decades to overthrow the legitimate government of Cuba and restore the pro-U.S. reactionary regime," Kin wrote in the article published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
"The crisis, a direct product of the U.S. backstage manipulation and persistent policy of blockading Cuba, is the extension of the U.S. conspiratorial moves to topple the government of Cuba."
The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Cuban leaders it held responsible for a violent crackdown against the protesters, including the defense minister and head of police.
Last week, Biden said "there will be more [sanctions], unless there's some drastic change in Cuba, which I don't anticipate." He added that the United States is increasing assistance for Cuban dissidents and political prisoners.
The support for the protesters by Washington "clearly proves that the U.S. was behind the recent anti-government demonstration in Cuba," the KCNA article said.
The article accused Washington of "stirring up [Cuba's] internal division and destabilization, using the Internet as a space for scaling up propaganda against the Cuban government and rallying reactionary elements."'
North Korea's foreign ministry has previously blamed the United States for unrest in Cuba. Last month, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Pak Myong Guk said in a statement that it's "clear that the main culprit and behind-the-scenes manipulator of the Cuban situation is none other than the U.S."
Pyongyang and Havana have had diplomatic relations since 1960 and the two authoritarian states remain close international allies. In 2018, Diaz-Canel visited Pyongyang and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
After the protests in Cuba, the North Korean government organized a rally where people condemned U.S. sanctions while carrying the Cuban flag and photos of the late Fidel Castro.
North Korea has been under stringent U.S.-led international sanctions since 2017 due to its nuclear weapons and missile programs. The secretive state has also faced economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and severe weather conditions that have damaged crops.
Some analysts believe that the sight of protests in Cuba may be causing worry in Pyongyang.
"There is a good possibility that these events in Cuba are a concern to at least some of North Korea's leaders because what happened in Cuba might also happen in their own country," Robert R. King, former special envoy for North Korea human rights issues at the U.S. State Department, wrote on Tuesday.
"North Korea is concerned with deteriorating economic conditions and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," King wrote on the website of Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"As a result, North Korean leaders are likely watching developments in Cuba much more closely than they might have done in the past."