By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – It was approximately 2 PM on July 11th. I was in the fields, suffering one of those regular blackouts when my phone rang. A cousin in Havana asked me where I was and immediately gave me one of the most surprising pieces of news I’ve ever had.
Cuba had risen up, thousands of Cubans all over the country were taking to the streets, in memory of their Mambise ancestors, with cries of “Down with the dictatorship”, “Freedom”, “Homeland and Life”, “We aren’t afraid”, “Down with Communism”… The greatest anti-Castro protest in the past 62 years of Communist dictatorship.
Protests had first broken out in San Antonio de los Baños, a town located a few kms away from south-east Havana, then in Palma Soriano in the eastern region, and after that it was a kind of spark that set alight a wildfire all over a Cuba.
I can’t describe the emotions that welled in me. My eyes teared up in a mixture of surprise, happiness, courage and hope. I tried to connect to the Internet to find information, then I discovered that ETECSA (property of the Communist Party and its complicit private stakeholders) had “knocked down” social media access. They didn’t want the Cuban people to carry on mobilizing, as you’d expect.
When the electricity came back on, a friend called to tell me that Diaz-Canel was making an appearance on National TV, and he blamed US imperialism for the protests, which he said were being funded from abroad. He called protestors mercenaries and criminals and worst yet, he made a clear bloodthirsty call for his supporters to take to the streets and confront protestors in a fight which resulted in provocations.
His actual words: “We are calling upon all of the revolutionaries in this country, all of the Communists, to take to the streets and go to the places where these disturbances are taking place” and “The order to fight has been given: take the streets, revolutionaries.”
I couldn’t stomach his exhausted, totalitarian speech, calling for violence.
I called a cousin in the evening. He told me that protests were still going on, and that there were thousands of protestors standing together in front of Capitolio.
I managed to get to Pinar del Rio, the following morning. The streets were full of soldiers, most of which were members of special troops. They had placed speakers with “revolutionary propaganda” in some places.
Later, I was able to confirm that the protest had been huge in Pinar del Rio. Thousands of people had mobilized and raised their voices on the city’s main streets, demanding their rights.
The military was deployed on the city’s streets the entire day of July 12th, you could hear pro-dictatorship songs and TV images showed the alleged victory of the self-proclaimed “revolutionaries”, who tried to recreate a narrative of events that pretty much nobody believes anymore, while stripping the Cuban people of their access to social media. However, protests continued in different places, although they weren’t as intense.
Now that the internet is becoming more accessible again, videos and pictures showing police violence against protestors and the brutality of mobs of government supporters (dressed in plain clothes and carrying wooden sticks a lot of the time) are outrageous. The violence was immediate after the president’s miserable call for repression.
I have talked to some people here in Pinar who were present during the beatings handed out by these wretched people dressed up as revolutionaries. Just like everywhere else in the country, hundreds of people – young people mainly – have been hit with sticks, shot and arrested, and the whereabouts of dozens still remains unknown, according to complaints from several families who have reported to human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. Government repression has also left a sad and indefinite number of fatalities.
As if this wasn’t enough, on the TV show Hacemos Cuba broadcast on July 14th, representatives of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Interior (MININT) made an appearance to threaten everyone who took part in the protests and were arrested with 20-year jail sentences.
Just to stifle the Cuban people’s legitimate cry, who are more than tired of having to live in misery and without freedom.
We don’t know how long this social system without rights will carry on for, but if there’s one thing that has been made clear, it’s the civic awakening of a population who have expressed the will for change. Although sadly, I don’t think protests alone are enough to overthrow a dictatorship.