Interview with Saily Gonzalez Velazquez
Saily was one of the signees of the request to hold a peaceful protest for change, an initiative by the Archipielago platform, which was denied authorization by the Government
HAVANA TIMES – Saily Gonzalez Velazquez is a hyperactive woman. However, she speaks slowly. She knows that rushed words can be misinterpreted.
Her business – which she’s had to close down recently because of pressure she’s been subjected to – has been a kind of refuge for civil society groups such as animal rights advocates and people from the LGBTIQ+ community.
Saily was one of the signees of the request to hold a peaceful protest for change, an initiative by the Archipielago platform, which was denied authorization by the Government, which has called it “illegitimate”, “unconstitutional”, and encouraged by foreign enemies.
“In doing this, they revealed that they have no respect for minority groups’ rights in Cuba. They also proved that they are extremely dangerous, as they openly manifested their willingness to repress our initiative, telling lies about our appeal.”
“They are also using this line of communication at workplaces with talks on the issue, and successive acts of “revolutionary reaffirmation”. They are trying to discredit our magic by any means possible in their attempt to get people to oppose it – which I don’t think they will be able to do, but it’s their strategy. They want to stop our protest, by any means possible.”
In spite of attempts to dissuade members of Archipielago and the declaration that the protest is illegal – an argument they can they use to lock up protestors-, Saily has decided to protest on this day.
“It’s my constitutional and human right, and I’m doing everything I can to do this.”
In the eyes of this 30-year-old woman from Santa Clara, Archipielago is “basically a pluralist group where anyone can share their ideas.”
“Dialogue is promoted here between different sectors of Cuban civil society. I don’t believe that it’s the platform for establishing a dialogue with pro-government political forces, as they don’t recognize us and, plus, they’ve proven that they don’t want to enter a dialogue. It’s just a Facebook group, for now.”
Like some other Archipielago members, Saily has also been a victim of the government’s slander campaign and “character assassination” in state-controlled media. “It’s unfortunate, but it proves that they have no other weapons than slander and lies to attack us. What we’re doing right now is totally legitimate and is born from our real desire to live in a country with rights.”
Like some other members of the group, she hasn’t been “summoned” after handing in a request to hold the protest and receiving the Government’s negative response, although she has been a victim of police harassment and surveillance.
“I received a phone call once asking me what Archipielago was and who Yunior Garcia was,” she says. “I explained to them that it’s a Facebook group and that we are people who want freedom and rights for Cuba.”
While State Security harassment has become more intense since the platform mobilized to organize a civil protest, she had been “a target” for a long time before this.
Ever since 2016, when she took part in a program for entrepreneurs via the US Embassy in Havana, Saily has had an “officer who attends to her.”
Accused of being a “mercenary”, “paid off by Imperialism” and whatever other insult trolls on social media can think of (she calls them cyberthugs), Saily had to make a decision which might have been drastic and radical for her – an enthusiastic entrepreneur.
“I recently had to close down my business Amarillo B&B, because we know that here in Cuba these kinds of food businesses always operate on the brink of legality, so it was very easy for them to lock us up if they wanted to and so, I decided to close it, as a precaution.”
Slowly Saily, who studied up to the fifth year of her Languages degree at the Central University of Las Villas, has gone from being the main coordinator of Amarillo Coworking, FullGao and rental owner to a political activist for Cubans’ rights and freedom.
Her social media is full of “DMs” in which she not only reports injustice with people who were arrested and detained after the 11J Protests, but also about the Government’s poor practices and decisions in administrating the economy and the pandemic in Cuba.
“Before this, I tried to create the Cuban Entrepreneurs Network, but it was an initiative that never saw the light of day, precisely because of State Security agents harassment of every one of us who were to be its members.”
The July 11th protests and events that came later then motivated this young woman to practice a “more frontal, energetical and constant” political activism. She not only uses her Facebook profile to talk with her audience, but has also taken to Twitter, where she talks about business management and exercises, as well as civil rights.
Saily always talks as “we”. She doesn’t only think about herself when she dreams about a better Cuba, her discourse includes everyone.
“The Cuba I want is a Cuba where there are equal opportunities for everyone.” Where people aren’t discriminated against or given priority to because of their political ideology,” she concludes.