Castroism hardens its repression against protests in Cuba

Díaz-Canel's government drowns out Monday's call and the opposition decides to extend the mobilisations until 27 November
Protestas Cuba

REUTERS/LUISA GONZÁLEZ  -   Cubans living in Colombia protest in front of the Cuban Embassy in support of the protests in Havana demanding political and civil rights, in Bogota, Colombia 15 November 2021

On 11 July, Cuba experienced one of the most remarkable days in its recent history. For the first time in decades, the foundations of the regime that has ruled the island with an iron fist since January 1959 shook, and even threatened to collapse. However, the iron-fisted power structure put on yet another show of force and diluted the protests using a well-oiled repressive system. Silence. Once again, Cuba's problems once again took a back seat.

The Cuban government did not concede a single one of the demands made by part of civil society, and the consequences of COVID-19 continued to erode the country's already precarious situation. The Archipiélago platform wanted to take advantage of this context to strike a new blow against the Díaz-Canel regime four months after the mass protests. The organising organisation decreed Monday 15 November as 'D' day for a new wave of protests to overthrow Castroism.

Everything seemed to indicate that the island would witness rallies similar to those that took place in July, which originated by surprise in the town of San Antonio de los Baños. This was yet another challenge to the political legitimacy of Castroism, something intolerable for the regime's upper echelons. However, the authorities were aware of the group's plans, and they devised a preventive response to prevent the demonstrations from taking place in various cities around the country.

Protestas Cuba
REUTERS/MAYELA LÓPEZ  -  Cubans living in Costa Rica protest in front of a local television station in support of the protests in Havana demanding political and civil rights, in San José, Costa Rica 15 November 2021

The Díaz-Canel government criminalised the so-called Civic March for Change, according to the Archipiélago platform, and decided to confront the Cuban people once again instead of "respecting our right to freedom of expression, assembly and demonstration established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and recognised by the 2019 Constitution", the group said. These facts were denounced by the UN, which urged the Cuban government to allow the demonstrations and cease the reprisals.

The streets of the country dawned militarised and the civilian clothes of the security agents did not hide the strong police presence. But this contingent acted in the company of a reactive mass of hundreds of citizens loyal to the regime, who went so far as to go to the homes of the demonstrators to intimidate them and prevent them from leaving their homes. The aim was to prevent at all costs a repeat of the largest anti-Castro protests in six decades.

Police blocked the home of one of the organisers of the demonstration, Yunior García Aguilera. The 39-year-old playwright was held incommunicado after the authorities also cut off his telephone connection and blocked his internet access. And like García Aguilera, other protesters have been retaliated against by the regime in their own homes. The repressive action has been described by the opposition as a "humiliating victory" for Castroism, which has burned its bridges in an attempt to appear normal, but which has managed to highlight once again its marked authoritarianism.

Protestas Cuba
AP/WILFREDO LEE  -  Demonstrators wave flags in support of protests in Cuba, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in front of Versailles Cuban restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood

"The regime has deployed security forces on a massive scale. Many journalists and critics are under siege in their homes. Some have been detained. The intention is clear: to suppress any attempt to protest," Human Rights Watch Americas director José Miguel Vivanco said on Twitter. The organisation documented human rights abuses, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment in detention "and abusive criminal prosecutions against 130 victims in 13 of the country's 15 provinces" in July.

The human rights organisation then reported more than 1,000 arrests and noted the death of singer Diubis Laurencio Tejeda. The 36-year-old was allegedly killed by a policeman, although no one has claimed responsibility for his death. The government justifies these actions on the grounds of external interference. The threat of an external agent with the capacity to influence and the existence of fifth columnists within Cuban society have been the pillars of argument that have sustained the decades of repression in Cuba. 

In this sense, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez celebrated the forced failure of the mobilisations as a "failed operation". Following the same 'modus operandi', Rodríguez denounced foreign participation in the protests and pointed to Washington's action. Since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, the United States has been the scapegoat that sustains the Castroist narrative. "Some of my colleagues in Washington have stayed dressed for their party, which has not happened," the foreign minister said.

Protestas Cuba
REUTERS/SUSANA VERA  -  A demonstrator with a Cuban flag painted on her cheek takes part in a protest to support Cuban dissidents and demand human rights in Cuba, at Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, Spain, 15 November 2021

The director of strategy of the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH), Yaxys Cires, denounced the house arrests of activists, arrests in the street, threats and internet cuts. However, Cires called acts of repudiation, "when pro-government mobs gather in front of activists' houses to shout insults and mockery", an abominable exercise. An increasingly common practice in Cuba.

"Despite this, today the Cuban people have made themselves felt. Those who could demonstrated in the streets; others did so from the safety of their homes. 120 cities around the world also joined the day; and wherever one Cuban marched, we all marched. Never have the Cuban people been more united in the struggle for their rights", said the Archipiélago platform in a statement published on Facebook. In the letter, the group also announced that they will extend the Civic Day for Change until 27 November.

Cuban society is fractured. The part that maintains its support for the regime is coerced by the dynamics of fear, or is trapped in the clientelistic networks that guarantee its survival or the survival of its own. On the other side of the scale are those who clamour for democratic openness and demand the arrival of a new political system. Fear also influences them, but the opposition is strengthening its ties by leaps and bounds. And in the middle is a regime that does not intend to give an inch, but which is at its lowest ebb since it took power in January 1959.

Latin America Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra