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Cubans in the streets push back the police of the dictatorship

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Cuba in the street: What the Castro dictatorship doesn’t want the world to see

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Homeland and Life vs The Trial of Shame

Last February, the Cuban artist Anamely Ramos was about to board a flight in Miami to Havana when the American Airlines company told her that she could not board: the Cuban government had reported that she did not have authorization to enter the country. Ramos had left the country months before to study for a doctorate at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico, from where she had obtained a visa to visit a friend in the United States, but for all intents and purposes she remained a resident of Cuba. But in the eyes of the regime, her activism had made her undesirable, and this was the easiest way to get her out of the way. It didn’t matter that the decision was manifestly illegal, nor that it necessarily separated Anamely from her son.

That of Ramos is not an isolated case, but part of the new wave of repression launched by the Government of Cuba in the last two years, and which will reach its maximum expression this Monday in the trial against two artists who, without wishing to, they have become the symbol of the peaceful struggle of Cuban civil society that the regime wants to suffocate at all costs. The defendants, the visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the rapper Maykel Castillo Pérez ‘Osorbo’, face possible sentences of seven and 10 years in prison for alleged crimes that include “incitement to commit a crime”, “aggravated contempt”, “disorder public”, “attack” and “escape of prisoners or detainees”. According to Amnesty International, however, in reality “they are being prosecuted for exercising their human right to criticize their own government”. Castillo is Ramos’ partner.

The three are members of the so-called San Isidro Movement, an initiative created to protest against the so-called Decree 349 of the end of 2018, which establishes that all artistic manifestations must first receive the approval of the Cuban authorities. Given the high profile of its members, this movement has gained significant international visibility, and has become a huge headache for the regime. Its members have carried out demonstrations, confinements, hunger strikes and repeated complaints about their situation through social networks. Osorbo, in fact, participated in the song ‘Patria y vida’, which has become the unofficial anthem of the Cuban opposition, and whose official video clip includes images of the San Isidro mobilizations. Now, everything indicates that the Cuban government may seek an exemplary punishment against two of its most notorious activists, in an attempt to stop the contestation.

It is not the option that the Cuban rulers would have preferred: both prisoners, whose health is delicate, have been offered the possibility of avoiding trial in exchange for going abroad. “The authorities were waiting to see if there was any negotiation and they went into exile. They are afraid that the trial will be held,” Anamely Ramos tells us from Miami, in a conversation via the internet. “They were waiting to judge everyone else, who is less visible, first,” she says.

Ramos refers to the processes held during the last year as a result of the protests of July 11, 2021, which took the regime of President Miguel Díaz-Canel by surprise. In response to this unexpected outburst, Cuban security forces identified as many of the participants as possible, went to their homes, tried them and sentenced them to up to two decades in prison. In one of the most notorious cases, the young Elier Padrón Romero was sentenced to 15 years in prison for filming the protests in his Havana neighborhood while shouting “We want change in Cuba, ‘Homeland and life’!”, for which he was charged with a crime of “sedition”. Despite their severity, these sentences attracted little attention globally.

The impasse of July 11

“July 11 is a turning point in the recent history of Cuba. It was the most massive protest at the national level since the 1959 revolution. Thousands of Cubans showed that they had lost their fear and that they want change,” explains Juan Pappier. , Human Rights Watch investigator in charge of Cuba. “Sadly, the Díaz-Canel regime responded with a brutal repression that seems to have the objective of generating a climate of terror so that Cubans never again dare to take to the streets and claim their rights,” he tells El Confidencial.

Yaxys Cires, Director of Strategies of the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, which operates from exile, expresses himself in the same sense. “The repression is now socially broader, reaching the common citizen with force, who was the protagonist of the protests in July 2021,” says Cires. “Two decades ago, the repression was mainly concentrated on the peaceful opposition; in the last seven years, it had included other actors, especially civil society groups (writers, artists, etc.), ‘influencers’, entrepreneurs, among others. July 2021 made explicit the failure of the regime, the rejection of the population in general, hence also the breadth and harshness of the repression, even imprisoning minors, “he explains.

The repression is broader, reaching the common citizen with force, who was the protagonist of the protests of July 2021

The scope of this wave of repression, which has spread to all levels of society, is such that today there is nothing comparable anywhere else in Latin America, said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, at an event with Cuban artists and activists held in Madrid in early April. Since the protests of July 11, 2021, the Cuban government has approved several legal initiatives aimed at further reducing the spaces for contestation, such as Decree-Law 35, of August of that year, which increases internet censorship, or the new Penal Code approved in the middle of this month. Meanwhile, they continue to harass and persecute not only those who are openly opposed, but also any show of dissent that threatens to achieve a certain amount of publicity or notoriety.

“The repression of the Cuban regime follows clear patterns. Anyone who dares to criticize the regime is subjected to repressive practices that range from acts of repudiation and short-term arbitrary detentions to criminal trials with long prison terms. These are not abuses isolated acts committed by some undisciplined officials; these are massive and systematic violations of human rights,” says Pappier. “During the peaceful protests, the repression was extensive and indiscriminate, but the day-to-day repression is personalized, implemented based on the study of the victim’s profile. They like to attack the opponent’s morale, make him believe that he is a loser, that he is alone and that if he insisted on his convictions there would be consequences for his loved ones. They learned it with the KGB,” says Cires.

The road of exile

At least half a dozen figures uncomfortable for the regime have been forced to leave Cuba under threats or have been prevented from returning, as in the case of Anamely Ramos. “This practice has intensified, because they need to empty the country of dissidents and opponents; they need to dismantle all the spaces that civil society had conquered and that somehow infected some social sectors,” explains Cires. “At other times, deportations of political prisoners had been seen, but now the pressure is also against activists who are free, who are given the choice between jail or exile,” he adds.

That is why, practically until the last minute, State Security has tried to negotiate with Otero Alcántara and Castillo Pérez for their release in exchange for their departure from the country. “In the case of Luis Manuel, he has been very emphatic that he is not going to go from prison to the airport. Maykel was just as convinced at first, but since he is sick, he is very scared. What has been asked is that They let him go abroad to be treated. They have done two biopsies that have been inconclusive. They have to do another one, this one more intrusive, and he is clear that he is not going to do it in Cuba,” says Ramos. “If only we knew what he’s risking…”

Last Friday, the Cuban government released around a dozen people convicted of the 11-J protests, most of them minors, whose sentences were lightened, but who still have to serve their sentences in an open regime. More than 700 people are still imprisoned for those events, according to local and international human rights organizations. And everything indicates that Otero Alcántara and Castillo Pérez will suffer worse luck. The latter’s environment has denounced that, just three days before the trial, a change of lawyer was imposed on him, which he considers suspicious. The fate of both is now in the hands of a court that hardly anyone considers impartial.

“The State is afraid of them because it knows that they are a problem on the streets,” says Ramos. “But after all the strength they have shown, they are not going to give in now just like that. They cannot live elsewhere, they do not consider that a happy life is possible [in exile],” he says. And something similar can be said of herself, who has taken her case to the United Nations and continues to fight for the Cuban authorities to allow her to return to the island. “I have not requested asylum in the United States, but an extension of the stay to be able to be here legally. I insist on being able to return,” she says bluntly.

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José Martí
José Martí
Nacionalista cubano, poeta, filósofo, ensayista, periodista, traductor, profesor y editor.

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