One year on from the protests that took place on 11 July 2021 in Cuba, the United States continues to recognise the determination of the Cuban people in their persistent struggle for respect for human rights and their perseverance in the face of repression during a historic year.
While the Cuban regime has sentenced hundreds of protesters to decades in prison, artists and actors like Yotuel Omar Manzanares Romero, better known as Yotuel, are fighting for their homeland and their lives. He urges young Cubans to lose their fear. One year on from these demonstrations, Prisoners Defenders has just released a report stating that 1,002 activists are still imprisoned, 20 new cases registered in July this year. A day ago, Cubans took to the streets in Holguín because of power outages. The situation is beginning to become untenable.
Are the various worldwide tributes to the protests of 11 July 2021 necessary so that this magical moment of the popular uprising of a new Cuban society that is beginning to realise the reality it is living through is not forgotten?
I share my life with a woman who is committed to women's equality. She wrote "The Awakening of the Muses" (the story of 12 women who vindicate the need to understand the feminist struggle for what it really is: a movement for human rights) and I have learned the great pain of the suffering of the woman who delays in denouncing her abuser. We have the tools to condemn the actions of this aggressor government. We denounce late. Cuba is afraid and the Cuban backpack is very heavy. The condemnations are subhuman. What would happen in Spain if, when there are demonstrations, President Pedro Sánchez said "the order to fight is given"?
Have you always enjoyed this counter-revolutionary spirit or, like other dissidents interviewed, have you been the victim of a great disenchantment with the Cuban regime's value system? Do you feel persecuted outside Cuba?
Look, at first yes. But the visualisations and media coverage of my song have helped me. They are not going to intimidate me to minimise this struggle. The brave one is the one who fights with fear on his back. Fear is caution. My motto, instilled by my late father: "Never be afraid when you do good".
Returning to the question, when did an expatriate Cuban singer and actor like yourself feel disappointed by a regime you initially supported?
I have been a victim of this desire to be like Che when I didn't know who Che Guevara was. I have shouted ad nauseam, Fatherland or Death! without knowing what it meant. I realised and wrote the lyrics of "Atrevido" in 2000 (... "Eso te pasó por no saber que todo tiene su precio, atrevido...") It talks about a family in which she has an affair with a foreigner in order to make him fall in love and take things away from him.
The reality of Cuba would not have been known if it had not been for the impact of social networks.
Do you consider certain EU governments to be accomplices, instead of supporting a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba? What political figures would be involved in the changes you are promoting for your island?
I do not advocate a dictatorship, whether right-wing or left-wing. We have to attack them and call them by their name. I don't care about political colour, totalitarianism is denounceable. You have to be on the side of humanity to understand what ordinary Cubans suffer.
I am a simple artist who defends the human rights of my people. My wish is that all those who have done wrong, disappear now and that Cubans choose their leaders, a consensus in free elections, for example. Let the people decide, because change must come from within.
Is Cuba ready for change?
Of course it is. Emotionally it can't take it any more. It is giving all its energy. What else is it going to give, if it gave its life? The weeds have to be removed to germinate.
More than 700 protesters remain behind bars and others are on hunger strike. Blinken has alluded to holding Cuban regime officials accountable for human rights abuses, calling for the unconditional release of political prisoners and urging our partners to do the same. What do you think about that?
I would go further. Free elections must be called. Who elected Díaz Canel? The revolution is of the people and for the people; let the people choose their president. This includes promoting accountability of Cuban regime officials for human rights abuses, condemning restrictions on fundamental freedoms and labour rights, calling for the unconditional release of political prisoners and urging our partners to do the same. For years the glass has been full and now, we say, enough is enough! The people have had enough, they want to complain, they want to be heard. We will never forget that the United States will always be on the side of the Cuban people in their aspiration to build a better future.
As of July 31, 2022, the list of political prisoners in Cuba stands at 1002 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, according to Prisoners Defenders, suffering judicial sentences, as well as provisions limiting their freedom by prosecutors without any judicial oversight, in alleged violation of international law and the due process of law.