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Cuba's government intensifies protest response

Gabriel Gonzalez | Rosa Muñoz Lima
November 16, 2021

The Cuban government has been clamping down on journalists and members of the opposition in an effort to prevent a resurgence of July's nationwide protests.

Men on a rooftop lower massive Cuban flags over the facade and windows of a building
Authorities ordered the windows of activist Yunior Garcia Aguilera's apartment coveredImage: Ramon Espinosa/AP/picture alliance

Cuba had plenty of reasons to celebrate on Monday. Children nationwide returned to the classroom after schools had been closed for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, tourists started trickling in again as the borders reopened, and Havana celebrated its 502nd anniversary with colorful street festivals.

But Monday's call for nationwide protests alarmed the government four months after demonstrations on July 11— the largest in decades — when people took to the streets to protest the worst economic crisis in 30 years, as well as electricity and food shortages. One person died, dozens were injured and 1,270 people were detained, 658 of whom are still in custody, according to the Cubalex human rights organization.

Despite a ban on demonstrations, the Archipielago protest network, founded by playwright Yunior Garcia Aguilera after the demonstrations in the summer, had urged the nationwide protests for November 15, known as 15N. The closer the day came, the harder the government's clampdown became.

Yunior Garcia Aguilera, a man wearing glasses and a flowered shirt, rests chin on hand
Cuban activist and playwright Yunior Garcia AguileraImage: Ramon Espinosa/AP/picture alliance

Security forces prevented several media workers and members of the opposition from leaving their homes over the past days, according to Article 19, an international organization for freedom of expression. The government withdrew the accreditation of Spain's EFE news agency on Saturday, days after it published an interview with Garcia Aguilera.

The group Reporters Without Borders has expressed concern that Cuba's government could take more action against national and international journalists. During and shortly after the protests in July, state security forces threatened, attacked, arrested and placed under house 15 journalists, the press freedom organization reported in Berlin on Monday.

Organized by Washington?

Authorities banned Monday's march, arguing that it was an attack on the socialist system, which is "irrevocably" enshrined in the constitution. They threatened to sue Facebook for hosting "private groups" that "carry out illegal actions." The diplomatic corps was summoned to underline the state media's message: "There is no independent opposition to our government," and the call for protests on Monday was "an operation organized from centers of power in the United States, with internal agents recruited, trained, financed and directed by the US Embassy in Havana."

"No one is going to spoil our celebration," Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla warned.

Saily Gonzalez Velazquez, an Archipielago activist, told DW that her answer to the government's accusations is "to open the refrigerator in my house."

Daniela Rojo, a 26-year-old poet and single mother of two who moderates the virtual forum from the Havana suburb of Guanabacoa, said she didn't even have cigarettes.

'An inadequate job'

DW was unable to contact Garcia Aguilera — his phone and internet connections have been shut down, and his home is under surveillance by state security, Rojo told DW.

"The Cuban government accuses anyone who thinks differently of working for a foreign government," Cubalex director Laritza Diversent told DW. "It will not acknowledge that there is an opposition in Cuba because, unlike with the US government, it doesn't want to sit down and talk with Cubans," said Diversent, a lawyer. "Havana says the problems should be solved in Cuba, but there is no room for participation or dialogue, and that is completely counterproductive," she added.

Despite the clampdown and the omnipresent state media propaganda, Rojo is optimistic that people will become aware of another message: "that the situation in Cuba is untenable, that we cannot continue to explain everything that is wrong in that country by citing US sanctions, that the government is clearly doing an inadequate job."

"We must give ourselves the opportunity to live in a democratic country," Rojo said, "where everyone has the right to say what they think and what they want for their country."

This article was originally published in German.