HAVANA TIMES – Archipielago’s call for a protest on November 15th is an unprecedented event in Cuban society, as the social outcry on July 11th was spontaneous. It’s the first time a social call is being made for a peaceful protest on this scale, to demand the Government for change.
“We might all be arrested on the 16th, or even before that; we’re not afraid. On the 15th, we’ll be making demands for the people who are in prison, we will ask for Rule of Law. I hope that Cuba continues to change on November 15th. Cuba changed with the San Isidro Movement, it changed with November 27th (the gathering in front of the Ministry of Culture), it changed on July 11th and it will continue to change on November 15th. What lies in the future can’t be predicted in societal terms, but citizens are tired and worn-out,” Leonardo Fernandez Otaño, an admin for Archipielago says in a conversation with Jorge de Armas and Enrique Guzman during an episode of elTOQUE’s podcast La Colada.
According to the young historian and Catholic, Cuba is a land of lost dreams. He is motivated to attend the protest by his desire to live in a better country, because Cubans deserve a better life; “they deserve to co-exist in a society where Catholics can educate their children in Catholic schools and LGBTI groups have equal rights.”
Possible scenarios for the 15N protest
While the government’s discourse has emphasized the idea of a failed initiative, Fernandez Otaño believes that the call for the protest and the process that has been unfolding in parallel has not been a failure, as the Cuban government found themselves forced to give a public response. Using official channels to request authorization proved that these channels do not work, as well as proving the system’s authoritarian and totalitarian nature.
One of the scenarios the young Catholic visualizes is what might happen on this day if there is the idea that something similar to 11J is happening: a social uprising. Nevertheless, he hopes for a protest that resembles more what happened on November 27th outside the Ministry of Culture, with small concentrations in certain points.
According to researcher and activist Salome Garcia, one of the guests on La Colada, “before July 11th, many people didn’t openly say they wanted change, that they weren’t willing to carry on tolerating injustice, that they wanted to demand their rights via channels used anywhere else, which is social protest.”
“I don’t think the November 15th protest will be massive, as lots of people are still suffering with their family members being put in jail: mothers, brothers and sisters. They would like to take to the streets and demand freedom for their family members, but they are also afraid, because they think: “if I’m put away too, who will take a bag to prison for my son or daughter, for my husband.” So, they have a responsibility hanging over them, political prisoners continue to be at the heart of this protest,” she adds.
Whichever scenario plays out, there are people in Cuba who are willing to take to the streets on November 15th. A 58-year-old Cuban woman, who was interviewed for this article, says that she will protest without fear and without her knees shaking: “Lots of people from my generation will go with me, because we have a moral duty to support these young people from Archipielago who are taking a chance for change. We owe it to our children, to our grandchildren and to ourselves, because we were a generation that did nothing, but now we are fed up and disappointed.”
“There is a civic and peaceful call to protest and the Government has to respect this,” she adds.
Supporting the social protest in Cuba from any country
Salome Garcia, who has been one of the people responsible for recording the names of those detained on and after 11J, believes in the importance of the diaspora community giving up an extremist discourse and accompanying events in Cuba.
Fernandez Otaño agrees and says that “the call is to take to the streets, wherever there is a Cuban, in the most remote town in Spain, Italy, the US, they can still support it… Authoritarianism is afraid of civic spirit and the invitation from Cuba is to build a social fabric; change is already underway, and people feel like we deserve a better life.”
“From the diaspora, it’s important to show support for the protest,” Garcia highlights. “Protests are being organized in different cities on this day. It would be good to do it a day before or at a time that doesn’t coincide on the same day as the protest here, but it is also important for us to mobilize together more in the long-term, to support those in prison; whether it’s paying a fine, topping up their phones so they can receive a phone call from family in jail, etc.”
“I feel like reconciliation is more and more of a fact in Cuba; that those who leave and those of us who stay no longer have the hate we had in the past; that those who leave, don’t leave for good and those of us who stay, don’t stay for good, because a part of us leaves with them.” Fernandez Otaño says.
From the San Isidro hunger strike to 15N: a year marked by protests
According to Garcia, “we can’t talk about July 11th without talking about the San Isidro hunger strike, when a group of people held a sit-in at the MSI headquarters in Old Havana, where they read poetry and demanded Denis Solis’ freedom. This led to the sit-in outside the Ministry of Culture on November 27th, and many people outside Cuba also began to mobilize. It’s a great source of strength when people on the island feel like they have support when they take to the streets to demand their rights.”
The activist believes that the protests have served to report problems that affect the population and go beyond the economic crisis. The Government hasn’t been able to respond to citizens’ needs with economic, social, and political measures; on the contrary, it has responded with repression, abusive fines, interrogations, surveillance, controlling discourse on social media and court trials.
“Arbitrary arrests have been made and summary hearings have been held, which have resulted in sentences: we have a 10-year-prison sentence for Roberto Perez Fonseca. Evidence from court officials of a criminal file being fabricated against this person accusing him as a counter-revolutionary can be seen on their social media pages with the hashtag Patria y Vida or SOSCuba, which friends and supporters of the Patria y Vida slogan have posted, sharing anti-establishment videos, etc.” she explains.
On this matter, writer and journalist Jorge de Armas believes that a lot of the time there tends to be a focus on artists and intellectuals, because of their protagonism in the San Isidro Movement and November 27th protest, and the real causes underlying them are ignored; which are the result of an incompetent Government, the inefficiency of a totalitarian State, the imposition of an ideology and, more than anything else, the precarious situation of citizens, who are unable to exercise their rights.
“It’s important to establish a difference between these subjective conditions and objective factors that have been dragging on for a long time,” political analyst Enrique Guzman Karell says. “What’s happened in the past eight months in Cuba has significant weight: the Reforms Process, the results of the pandemic, a more severe economic crisis… There are a series of elements in citizens’ everyday lives that have made people feel like they have been pushed to their limit and they haven’t received any positive answers from the Government.” he concludes.