HAVANA TIMES – The Archipiélago (Archipelago) initiative was launched on social media on August 9, 2021, and has over 30,000 members on Facebook. Its main actions have been linked to the organization of a protest that has been scheduled for November 15th in eight of the country’s provinces, and was ruled illegal by the authorities.
Yunior Garcia Aguilera is the group’s founder and Archipelago’s most visible face. But he isn’t the only one.
Another of the group’s members, Leonardo Fernandez Otaño, explains that “leadership in Archipielago is completely horizontal and shared, and everyone’s voice and position is just as important. It works like a kind of assembly or parliament. Matters are put forward and discussed, they are debated, ideas are exchanged, agreements are reached.”
It has 32 admins on its digital spaces and groups. Some of them take care of communications, while others are in charge of moderating debates on Ágora, its Telegram group.
“Moderation in these spaces allows for the basic ethical grounds to be laid for respecting different opinions; there are opinions from the Left, Right and Center here. This diversity can also be seen in the group’s admins and moderators.”
“It really is a democratic space. Making decisions often takes hours, as this goes hand-in-hand with the members’ everyday jobs, because we are people who have our day jobs, we lead a life with all of the shortages that exist here in Cuba, although there are some members who help from the diaspora, but the vast majority of Archipelago members are living on the island,” Leonardo points out.
In recent weeks, some members of the group have reported repressive acts against them that range from hate rallies acts in their communities and attacks on social media, to being fired from their workplaces. The government calls them “mercenaries” – athough they haven’t provided any evidence to support this claim – and they discredit them for their political ideas.
Here at elToque, we’re sharing a summary of some of Archipelago’s members and their motivations. All of them signed letters requesting authorization for the protest, which they presented to local authorities in Holguin, Santa Clara, Havana and Old Havana, Nuevitas, Guantanamo, Cienfuegos, Las Tunas, Camagüey and Pinar del Rio. They all insist on Archipelago’s right to protest peacefully and they stand by their intention to march, in spite of the government’s “No”.
Yunior Garcia Aguilera, Havana, 39 years old
He is the person behind the idea for the platform and the name Archipelago. It was born in a jail cell after he was arrested during the July 11th protests in Havana, when he showed up in front of the former Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) building to peacefully request 15 minutes, so he could exercise his right to respond. The playwright and artistic director, originally from Holguin, had been one of the main representatives at the protest of young artists that took place outside the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT), on November 27th 2020.
He says that after that moment, he feels like he took on another role: he became the representative of a new generation critical of the Government, which includes artists, independent journalists, and academics, most of whom have no involvement with political parties. “What I’m doing has an important social function: what I’m doing could change society, even if it’s only a little bit, and the world, why not?”
Yunior has been harassed and attacked by official party-liners for his role and defense of the right to protest. His response to the attacks has been: “we are not this string of adjectives they are using to try and defame us. We are the fruit of our reality, our harsh and rough reality. It’s up to us to make the word revolution mean change again, and for sovereignty to finally be ours, us citizens.”
Leonardo Manuel Fernandez Otaño, Havana, 29 years old
Leonardo describes himself as a historian and lay/Catholic, and also took part in the July 11th protests, outside the old ICRT, which he was harrassed and arrested for. He became one of Archipelago’s founders during that time, alongside Yunior Garcia. He now forms part of the group of moderators on Agora, their space for debate. He has been persecuted for being a member of the platform, and his family, friends and neighbors have been threatened. According to him, “the threats, intimidation and violation of rights of the platform’s members are the authoritarian regime’s response to the fear they have of our civic project.”
He says that he doesn’t feel like an activist, but he is moved by the desire to change his reality with education, teaching and from his Christian devotion. Leonardo’s social commitment spans beyond Archipelago and he also forms part of the “Pensemos Juntos” (Thinking together) platform, alongside a group of friends and secular Catholics, which is focused on reflecting upon social thought and civil rights.
Leonardo also collaborates with social projects to improve the community, which are run by the Loyola Reina Center and gives classes at the Fray Bartolome de las Casas study center. He supports Archipelago’s plans that transcend 15N: “the path towards a plebiscite that leads us to a democracy – we have no idea how long it will take; the release of all political prisoners, before and after July 11th; the search for peaceful solutions between Cubans.”
Fernando Almeyda Rodriguez, Havana, 29 years old
This young lawyer was one of the signees of the formal request dilvered to the Havana Government on September 21, asking to hold a protest, and this is why he’s been summoned for interrogations more than once. In addition to being one of Archipelago’s moderators, Fernando is an editor of Dialektika, a platform for social thought and contemporary philosophy. He is also researching issues on religion and culture, thanks to his studies at the Institute of Religious Sciences (ISECRE).
Fernando has been threatened like other Archipielago members and says that they are political in nature and are the lowest that a generation can fall into against another. He insists on dialogue, in the meeting of interests where everyone can take part in building a Cuba with real opportunities. He says that they will peacefully protest on November 15th. “I’m going to protest like an ordinary Cuban. They can stop me if they want to. But they’ll have to stop me, I won’t stop myself. [I’ll do it] for those who have had their freedom taken away, for our rights, wellbeing, the future, for those who suffer.”
Reinier Diaz Vega, Havana, 30 years old
This young actor is a well-known face on the island for his successful participation in several feature films such as La Partida (2013), Inocencia (2018), El extraordinario viaje de Celeste García (2018) and the children’s series Mucho ruido. Reinier admits that acting is his life and he loves and enjoys his work to the max. He is also aware of the consequences that the decision to defend his ideas, fearlessly, may have on his professional life.
In spite of this, he was one of the protagonists Nov. 27th, at MINCULT; he was at the July 11th protests in Havana, in front of the old ICRT; and then he joined Archipelago. The Cuban government’s willingness to create a dialogue is being doubted, as they only talk with a certain sector. When the authorities announced military exercises would be held on November 20th (the initial date for the protest), it was Reinier’s public responsibility to announce the new date for November 15.
He has seen a meeting point between his ideas as a Mason and Archipielago’s roots. “Citizens know they have a responsibility; they take on what they consider to be the most important. The patriot has an idea and clings to it, so strongly that they don’t assess the consequences when they defend it, the patriot normally loses their life even when they are alive,” this young person says.
Daniel Triana Rubio, Havana, 24 years old
He was already a LTBTIQ+ activist and member of the 27N movement before coming to Archipelago. Without any fear of reprisals for his public actions defending human rights in Cuba, he was an active participant in the protests on November 27, 2020, as an actor. Shortly after, in March 2021, he was one of the young people who presented a request to the National Assembly of People’s Power to demand the resignation of Culture minister Alpidio Alonso Grau, and he was there in front of the old ICRT building on July 11th.
Daniel has gained a large social media following for his activism for sexual rights, but also in civic, intellectual, artistic, and environmental circles. As a member of Archipelago, he has complained about being a victim of systematic cuts to his phone line and Internet access, in an attempt to keep him cut off. He has made his support clear for the rest of the platform’s members, after recent cases of harassment and attacks. His invitation has been to “choose civility in the face of any authoritarian action carried out by those in power.”
Daniela Cecilia Rojo Varona, Havana, 26 years old
She is a single mother and independent political activist. She lives in Guanabacoa, and by the age of just 23, she already had two children depending upon her. She is a humble woman, “an unknown woman”, as she has called herself, but she’s willing to break “the mold that they want to put her in, sometimes.” She was kept in prison for 23 days after taking part in the July 11th protests, and she is still on bail and awaiting trial for “serious public disorder”.
The Attorney-General’s office is asking for a 1-3 year prison sentence. She is one of Archipelago’s moderators. She has been a victim of police harassment, interrogations, threats, arrests and cuts to her phone line and Internet access because of her public defense of the 15N march and her public opposition to the Government. “I am firm in my beliefs, I will always raise my voice in the face of injustice,” she has said, and she defends to the grave the idea that “being a dissident isn’t being a mercenary.”
Saily Gonzalez Velazquez, Santa Clara, 30 years old
Saily has made social media her platform: both to share her personal experiences, as well as her political activism. This language graduate can’t sit still. In addition to Amarillo B&B – the first gay-friendly hostel in Santa Clara-, she also founded FullGao and Amarillo Coworking – two collaborations between the self-employed. Although she has had to put aside most of her enthusiasm as a businesswoman in recent months, and give priority to the political struggle.
She recently decided to close down Amarillo cafe, which had become her rental home because of harassment from State Security. Her cause right now is a Cuba with rights and freedom for all of its citizens. This longing takes up almost all of her time and brought her to Archipelago, where she acts as a moderator.
Her participation in the Young Leaders of America Initiative in 2016, was the reason for her first run-in with State Security, and these events have only been growing in recent weeks. She has been accused, more than once, of being “trained” to overthrow the Cuban government. Saily says that she doesn’t need training from anyone to fight for what she believes in. She believes in “a better country where people have rights and freedom.”
David Martinez Espinosa, Cienfuegos, 31 years old
The chemical engineer and professor knew the risks he was running because of his political activism. As a result, he’s unphased by the authorities’ slander campaign of him on social media, even if they photograph him on the sly in public places and have kicked him out of Cienfuegos’ University Medical School because of his clear intention to take part in the peaceful protest set for November 15th. He joined Archipelago because he was interested in the civil path that the group has proposed in order to demand rights that the Cuban government refuses the population.
David says that Archipielago isn’t a political party, but a trial-version of a small republic where different ideological tendencies respectfully coexist. Some friends have asked him not to visit them because of his activism, and others have taken certain precautions before going back home. Seeing the State’s repression and violence on July 11th on Cienfuegos’ streets reaffirmed his decision to get involved in the change needed for a prosperous and free Cuba.
Helen Ochoa Calvo, Cienfuegos, 50 years old
Civility is Helen’s language, which is why she fell in love with Archipelago’s objectives and intentions, although she did join the group randomly. This is her first experience as a political activist, but she likes to define her position of a civic nature and not as a political or ideological belief. A language graduate, she has worked at most of Cienfuegos’ cultural institutions and is currently a Spanish teacher. She decided to sign the request for a peaceful protest in the “Pearl of the South” and this has led to meetings in her workplace to clarify her stance, public insults and harassment on social media and words of caution to her family and close friends.
Helen is stuck between the pain and anxiety she’s causing her family and the certainty that she’s walking down the path of the fair and just. She believes that if rights aren’t demanded and exercised by citizens, then the Government won’t do this either. She dreams of the day Cuba is a country where everyone is equal before the Law and where public institutions guarantee these legitimate rights; a country where citizens’ fate isn’t determined because of their ideological, political or economic beliefs. She wants “every Cuban to be able to dream of a future in Cuba and not outside it, so that travel isn’t a one-way ticket and memories a sea of longing and loss, but as an option that doesn’t entail breaking the family unit.”
Manuel Alberto Guerra Guerrero, Holguin, 27 years old
According to this doctor, his job is a key part of his life; yet, he has been the subject of interrogations, arbitrary arrests, fines and he finally lost his job at the Leon University Hospital in Holguin. Why? Because he’s one of Archipelago’s moderators, he supports a peaceful protest being held on 15N; he also took to the streets during the July 11th protests and tirelessly reports the crisis the country is in, not only economically, but in terms of human rights.
Manuel is just one more victim of many violations and has demanded: “no more coercion, no more injustice. Repect constitutional precepts. Call a truce for pluralism, inclusion and democracy.” Identifying with others who have run the same fate within the group, he has shown his support for others and, at the same time, received countless displays of solidarity from his patients, colleagues and friends, when he reported workplace harassment and political persecution.
Zulema Leonor Gutierrez Lozano, Holguin, 39 years old
The young writer and poet has been with the platform since the very beginning, motivated by its transparency and the chance to unite many Cubans no matter what their political persuasions and thoughts. She is a moderator and admin of the Facebook group, alongside her husband Javier L. Mora, although she says that this isn’t a matter of privilege, but of service. Police surveillance units have been stationed around her building and she received a threatening call to her landline.
She says that the authorities’ “no” to the protest is arbitrary, unfair and they are seeking refuge in an article of the Constitution that voids the legitimate right every human has to peacefully protest, because of ideology, which shows “to the world that thinking differently in our country is a crime, that those who think differently and want to express this have no rights, they are denied the right to have rights.”
Zulema says that members of the platform have been publicly accused of being confused and mercenaries, without any proof; they are being discredited and attacked as if they weren’t worthy of respect. She dreams of a Cuba where there is respect for every opinion, where people don’t live in fear, where parents don’t have to tell their children to be quiet, where artists aren’t imprisoned or sent into exile and Art isn’t conditioned by ideology.
Alberto Reyes Pia, Camagüey, 54 years old
This parish priest from the Esmeralda municipality in the Camaguey province, unofficially leads the local Catholic opposition movement, alongside Castor Alvarez, another priest who is critical of the Government and was arrested in the 11J protests. Reyes posted his “Cronicas del Noroeste” (Chronicles of the North-East) on his social media, in which he reported social problems in this area of Camaguey and harshly criticized the Government.
In April 2021, they stopped appearing after receiving political pressure. On October 12th 2021, he was one of the three activists who went, in-person, to hand in a letter with his signature to the Municipal Assembly, asking for authorization for a peaceful protest in the city of Camaguey. From his theologocial interpretations, he believes that “the teachings of the Church approve and encourage democracy as long as it allows citizen’s to actively participate in public administration.” He also finds support in his principles that “only political pluralism can guarantee a true democracy, where the objectivity of truth and subjectivity of freedom come together. We need to overcome the dogmatism of a totalitarian State that wants to impose “its truth” on citizens.” Parish priest Alberto Reyes hasn’t recanted from his free decision to protest on 15N.
Leinier Cruz Salfran, Guantanamo, 38 years old
Leinier is unemployed out of self-choice. Graduating from technical school in Metallic Constructions, he worked in the I.T. department at the “Jose Maceo Grajales” Polytechnic Institute and the Provincial Assembly of the People’s Power in Guantanamo, but he no longer wants to contribute to the socialist economy. Now, his mother has been told that her son “is the leader of a gang of counter-revolutionaries”, but he just thinks of himself as an isle in the middle of Archipelago.
He signed and collected signatures for the authorization request for the 15N protest and handed it in to the municipal Assembly in his city. His posts on social media are considered an attack of domestic order, thus he is violating Decree-Laws 35 and 370, according to the Cuban Government’s regulations. He has suffered a slander campaign against him which has transformed him into a “mercenary paid by the CIA”, “bad father” and “pimp”. He believes that Archipelago brings together this part of Cuban civil society that is aware that they don’t deserve the life they have.