By Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES – There are hundreds of people detained in Cuban prisons for having gone out and protested on July 11th, even though the Constitution protects this right.
As I write this, there are people being charged with contempt, public disorder, incitement, sedition.
Many people aged 60+, with all of the health complications that come with age, might face harsh sentences that would make their ailments worse.
They are asking for sentences greater than the age of children being held: 18, 20, 23 years in prison. All of this just because they took to the street, alongside thousands of other protestors, shouting for freedom or an offense against a police officer; or for having thrown a stone, some in self-defense against the many stones the military threw at them, repressing them. These members of the military are still free, they enjoy full immunity, while these children are now seeing their futures cut by judges, public prosecutors, by State Security and everyone else who allows this to happen.
What’s happening in Cuba today is awful, but worse still is the fact that most people carry on about their everyday business, talking about the price of pork or if this or that opposition member left the country; reselling whatever they can buy at US dollar stores (which only a minority of privileged Cubans can buy at with remittances from abroad) at crazy prices; spending hours under the hot sun or being pounded by the humid air as they go to and return from work.
Life. Life in Cuba. The life that these minors and adults have watched come to a grinding halt behind some bars, I imagine that some don’t even properly understand what’s going on.
In order to look at the statistics, please visit the Justicia 11J website which has meticulously compiled and verified this data independently, from civil society: “Out of a total of 1305 people arrested in relation to the July 11th protests, at least 703 continue in detention centers. Out of the 553 people who have been released, many are awaiting trial under bail or home arrest. A total of 137 people are facing sedition charges.
“Out of the 85 people arrested in relation to the Civic Day for Change, 10 remain in prison.” There is a link of this very website with a detailed record of the arrests.
Meanwhile, official discourse is hellbent on disproving this reality, over and over again.
A few months ago, the Supreme Court president explained that the right to protest is constitutional, which only confirms that the Government is violating its own laws without any consequences.
In the past few days, Radio Rebelde radio station has been saying it’s fake news that children have been arrested, ignoring the 14 minors who are still in prison. The FMC (Cuban Women’s Federation) didn’t take a stance for the women who were abused by police officers in the middle of the street, nor for the women who are now separated from their children, just because they took to the street to cry out for a better future for them.
Diaz-Canel just told members of the Pastors for Peace caravan that there aren’t any political prisoners in Cuba: “there are people who aren’t with the Revolution and can protest freely,” he says, and the pastors’ caravan people didn’t question that at all.
At this time of year, the country holds a film festival and an Art Biennal, they are talking about parties and celebrations when there are so many people suffering. It’s madness that will stir rage, sadness and doubts.
In the face of this situation, it’s important to talk about the subject with those who believe they are far from experiencing the repression. Talking about the issue with family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers. Sharing information, especially with those who don’t have good access to social media or are unable to spend megabytes surfing the web leisurely to read the news. The ones that stick with the president’s cynicism or the State media’s denialism.
There are indeed political prisoners in Cuba, there always has been, just that the number of them now after July is bloodchilling. There are students, workers, professionals, activists, decent, happy people, people who suffer, are discriminated against, brave and simple people; some names are well-known, but not the majority. They are united by their decision to exercise their right of freedom of speech, fed up with their living conditions. They aren’t criminals. We mustn’t abandon them.
We have to be the message bearers for the majority, make them understand that this nightmare could befall one of their own relatives tomorrow.
People are working hard both in and outside Cuba: collecting data, appealing to international organizations, reporting, and sharing information on social media, writing, giving testimony. It’s all super important, and there is still a lot left to be done in our day-to-day on the island, full of people with blindfolds tightly covering their eyes and hearts.