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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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More than 1,400 arrests, 488 convictions and 700 people still in jail: one year after the massive 11J protests in Cuba

On Sunday, July 11, 2021, what seemed impossible happened on an island tightly controlled by the repressive apparatus of the dictatorship: thousands of Cubans spontaneously came out to demand the end of the dictatorship, as well as demand economic reforms for an already unsustainable cost of living. Added to the protests is the constant political persecution of anyone who dissents against the communist model implemented by the Castros for more than 60 years and the lack of individual freedoms of people.

It started little by little. But suddenly it exploded. The town was suffocated.

The first demonstrations took place in San Antonio de los Baños and the rest of the Cubans found out through live broadcasts that the protesters themselves published on their social networks. To the cry of “down with the dictatorship!”, “freedom” and “homeland and life”, the domino effect came: then Palma Soriano lit up and as the hours passed, Havana exploded.

An unimaginable column of Cubans arrived at the Malecón until it was brutally repressed.

“What happened has many interpretations, but in principle it is a social protest, the largest since 1959, which subjects the bases of what has been understood by the ‘Cuban consensus’ to deep discussion,” explained Cuban professor and researcher Julio Cesar Guanche.

The protests of July 11 and 12, 2021 in Cuba were unleashed in the midst of an economic crisis, with shortages and power cuts. These imbalances were the result of the combination of two factors: the tightening of the economic sanctions of the United States against Cuba so that there is a change in the political model, and the economic paralysis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which caused irritation, scarcity and long queues. They were the first such mobilizations since the 1990s.

The protesters took to the streets to demand an end to the food shortage and even changes in government. They acted peacefully, although there were also looting of stores, clashes with the police and destruction of vehicles on public roads. One person died in Havana. And there were arrests.

The authorities did not say how many citizens were detained in total, but human rights organizations said that more than 1,400 people had been arrested.

The report A year without justice: patterns of state violence against protesters of 11J, made by the NGOs Cubalex and Justicia 11J, reflects that a total of 1,484 people were arrested, of which 701, aged between 12 and 68, still remain behind bars.

The arrests were made by forces of the dictatorship, mostly plainclothes agents, who began their raids after the dictator Miguel Díaz Canel called on the “communist revolutionaries” to go out and fight those who were protesting, in an act of desperation. that put him in the world spotlight: on a national network he called for a bloodbath, a confrontation between Cubans…

Parallel to the arrests, the dictatorship blocked mobile data: without access to social networks, the protesters could neither find out about more mobilizations nor spread what was happening there to the rest of the globe.

But blocking everything is no longer easy. “This would have been impossible without a digitally connected Cuba. Social media played a critical facilitating role in channeling widespread discontent and allowing people to see others fearlessly express shared frustrations,” said Ted Henken, professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at Baruch College in New York. The expert defines the internet as “a Pandora’s box that has brought constant headaches to the regime by allowing Cubans to increasingly lose their collective fear and identify their discontent with that of many other fellow citizens.”

Díaz-Canel also went for the press, tried to silence the correspondents, his shock forces beat a photographer from the AP agency and even arrested a live influencer, while she was giving an interview for Spanish TV, but the maneuvers usual did not reach.

The balance of the protests

The Cuban Prosecutor’s Office updated on Wednesday to 488 the number of people who already have final sentences after being imprisoned for their role in the intense demonstrations last July.

Sanctions were imposed on 74 people in processes carried out in Havana, Matanzas and Santiago de Cuba, the judicial body reported in a statement. Two were acquitted.

It is the third report made by the Prosecutor’s Office in the last 10 days. First, it announced the final sentences for 381 people, and a few days later it indicated that another 30 already had sentences as well. If the current 74 are added to that, the number of final sentences reaches 488.

The legal proceedings against the demonstrators were harshly criticized by foreign governments and human rights organizations, who argued that they sought to set a precedent to dismantle any opposition. For their part, the authorities defended the trials, noting that the defendants had committed acts of vandalism and seditious attempts.

The harshest penalties corresponded to the crimes of sedition, with up to 25 years in prison.

Homeland and Life, a movement that toured the world

Patria y Vida “Homeland and life” is the song that prompted Cubans to fight against the dictatorship. That phrase from the song performed by artists such as Yotuel Romero, Descemer Bueno, Gente de Zona, Maikel Osorbo and El Funky, became one of the main protest slogans of Cuban dissidence.

The song, openly contrary to the island’s regime and its policies, is a counterpoint to the Cuban revolutionary slogan “Homeland or death.” It alludes to recent events such as the protest by the San Isidro Movement, which ended with the eviction and arrest of artists and activists locked up on a hunger strike in protest at the arrest of anti-establishment rapper Denis Solís.

After the publication of the theme, the dictatorship felt the impact it had on Cuban society and increased the persecution against some of the artists who participated in the project, such as the case of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who received a five-year sentence “for outrage of national symbols, continued contempt and public disorder.

Osorbo was also convicted with him, sentenced to nine years for attack and defamation of institutions, among other crimes for which the regime accused him.

Will there be another July 11?

Last year’s protests have faded, but not the economic crisis seen as their catalyst. Long lines for food, public transport, fuel and medicine fuel frustration. Power outages are frequent.

Human rights organizations consider it unlikely that anti-government demonstrations will take place in Cuba in the short term, such as those of July 11, 2021, given that the Cuban State “has increased its tools of social and physical control” since then.

“They are specialists in the inhibitory effect,” Laritza Diversent, executive director of the Cubalex organization, told EFE. She predicts that on July 11 the Cuban regime will “bring more police into the streets” and believes that if there were to be a protest , “violence” could occur on both sides.

The activist said that many relatives of those detained during the peaceful protests a year ago now prefer to remain silent after being “harassed” by Cuban security forces.

She also alluded to the new Cuban criminal code that increases penalties and sanctions for those who “exercise their right to dissent,” in addition to criminalizing expressions of protest published on the Internet, for which the Cuban state has monitoring mechanisms.

All this makes it unlikely that on July 11, the date on which the Cuban exile community in Miami has called for a series of activities, another large mass protest will take place in Cuba, according to the activist, who is in asylum in the United States.

Alessandra Pinna, director of programs for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Freedom House organization, one of the coordinators of today’s teleconference, called “#SOSCuba: A Year Without Justice,” warned that the increase in “arbitrary arrests” after the 11J may have overwhelmed the prison infrastructure on the island.

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

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