By Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES – I can’t stop thinking about something Miguel Barnet said at the VIII Congress of the Communist Party in April, which went something like: the revolution isn’t on social media, but in the streets. He was supporting official discourse in terms of the credibility of content posted about Cuba on social media.
Ever since 2018, when mobile data came to Cuba, the government has had to deal with criticism and questioning from activists, journalists, artists and the general population, who vent their frustrations on social media. In the government’s mind, social media is a danger, and it’s true, the hegemony of official discourse is fading with Cubans’ access to them.
However, up until the protests on Sunday July 11th, the government hadn’t suffered so much in such a brief period because of the Internet. It was thanks to social media that we were able to see events live in San Antonio de los Baños, where the protests began: a completely peaceful march, where people of all ages were present and the word “Freedom” could be heard loud and clear.
After San Antonio, the flame spread across the island, and these live-streamings on social media showed how people lost their fear and took to the streets to protest, inspiring others. Inspiration is a powerful weapon. The island quickly filled with protestors.
The government’s response was to cut Internet access from that same Sunday to stop pictures of the protests and government repression used to stop them, from circulating quickly. Even with mobile data access being cut, some people still managed to access these platforms using different channels, and they uploaded videos and saw what others were posting.
That’s how we found out about the riots. Yep, there were some people who broke windows and looted shops, threw rocks, and hit police officers. However, we also saw the abuse of police forces, the sticks and stones those “defending the revolution” used, of the protestors who were violently arrested, thrown into trucks, of the pepper spray, fear, and many other things.
Disconnecting the internet is totally coherent with official discourse, not only because Cuba’s communications monopoly belongs to the government/Party, but also because they want to be the only authors of the social and political narrative in the country.
However, the videos are there, many people saved them. It doesn’t matter that they are trying to distort them now. It makes no sense to think that Cubans can forget something so momentous, that has never been seen before by several generations born after 1959, except for TV and reports from other countries.
It’s absurd to deny that this was a social explosion, that people weren’t only tired of medicine or food shortages. It’s madness for the government to say that they only see criminals or manipulated and confused people in the thousands of peaceful people we see in these videos.
Of course, there are media campaigns against the government (not against Cuba), the blockade/embargo is real and is affecting the entire population, but it is unsettling to see them only fixate on the external factors. They only ever look for an outside reason, and they ignore, overshadow and discredit the Cuban people.
People didn’t take to the streets because it’s the trendy thing to do or because of money, anyone listening to their demands will realize this. No matter how many times the Party/government leaders want to say it, I don’t see anyone confused there. The Cubans marching in the annual May 1st parades seem more confused or manipulated, as these are organized from above and are compulsory for many and very few Cubans take them seriously. I’ve seen more sincerity in these July protests than never before.
It’s our reality, it’s not only on social media anymore, people have taken to the streets to demand their freedom. It’s unfortunate that government discourse remains so monotonous. Even amidst the cut of Internet access, Diaz-Canel returned to the airwaves to warn: “we won’t let ourselves be intoxicated by social media because they want to show a Cuba that isn’t real.”
If they carry on like this, with this worn out discourse, minimizing internal problems and people’s tiredness with their reality, then they will gradually lose their credibility.