CubaBrief: July 11, 2021 the day that tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets in over 50 towns and cities across Cuba

On the streets in Cuba on July 11, 2021

On the streets in Cuba on July 11, 2021

Journalist Anthony Faiola reported today in The Washington Post article “Cubans hold biggest anti-government protests in decades; Biden says U.S. stands with people” that “Communist Cuba erupted in its largest-scale demonstrations in decades on Sunday as thousands of people chanting “freedom” and “yes, we can” took to the streets from Havana to Santiago de Cuba in a major new challenge to an authoritarian government struggling to cope with increasingly severe blackouts, food shortages and a spiking coronavirus outbreak.”

There is a crackdown underway in the island with the regime openly calling for “combat” against nonviolent protesters.  Cubalex has identified over 100 arrested, but this is with information not readily available, and the regime not releasing information.

President Miguel Diaz Canel, handpicked by Raul Castro, threatened in a public address: “They [protesters] would have to pass over our dead bodies if they want to confront the revolution, and we are willing to resort to anything.

Mr. Diaz Canel does not need to tell older Cubans this. Yesterday, the Center for a Free Cuba together with the Patmos Institute and CubaDecide hosted a vigil outside of the Cuban embassy to remember the 37 victims of the July 13, 1994 “13 de marzo” tugboat massacre. They were killed for trying to flee Cuba. Marti Noticias covered the protest yesterday.

Cuban independent journalist Abraham Jiménez Eno provides the context of what happened on July 11, 2021 in The Washington Post today:

On Sunday, Cubans came out to the streets in more than 50 towns and cities and raised their voices to call for an end to the dictatorship. Unprecedented scenes took place across the island — although you would have been excused if you thought you were watching protests anywhere else in Latin America. The region has been a hotbed of discontent in recent months, but Cuba has been suffering for a long time while biting its tongue.”

Cubans are tired of the repression, lies, and terror of the dictatorship in Havana and are standing up for change.

Outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC on July 11, 2021

Outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC on July 11, 2021

The Washington Post, July 12, 2021

Global Opinions

Opinion: Cubans are losing their fear. We want change.

Opinion by Abraham Jiménez Enoa

Abraham Jiménez Enoa is a contributing Global Opinions columnist based in Cuba and founder of the magazine El Estornudo.

On Sunday, Cubans came out to the streets in more than 50 towns and cities and raised their voices to call for an end to the dictatorship. Unprecedented scenes took place across the island — although you would have been excused if you thought you were watching protests anywhere else in Latin America. The region has been a hotbed of discontent in recent months, but Cuba has been suffering for a long time while biting its tongue.

The flame that set up the protests had been flickering for a while. Sparks have flown since last year, the social discontent more apparent than usual. It happened with the San Isidro Movement demonstrations, the actions of the 27N Movement and other isolated incidents of violence against the opposition. They all set the stage for Sunday. The mass protests destroyed the often-used accusations by the regime than anyone against it is a paid CIA agent.

Those who came out in defiance included the woman I saw leaving her old apartment building in downtown Havana to confront a group of police officers who were beating a man with their batons. The man was screaming, “You are doing this to me just because I want to live and eat.” That’s exactly what moved people to the streets. The woman stood in front of the officers and yelled at them about the lack of medicine and food, about her covid-19 diagnosis, about the ambulance who had to pick her up a few days ago. “Do you think this is a country? Is this the trash you are defending?” she asked them. The man and the woman were handcuffed. They were taken away while a group of people chanted, “Freedom, abusers, freedom!”

We Cubans can’t stand this regime anymore, and our frustration is boiling over. A country with severe shortages of food and medicine, with a collapsed health care system under covid-19, plus power outages and increased political repression, has finally exploded. And this just compounds decades of mismanagement and authoritarianism.

The many peaceful demonstrations on Sunday by Cubans demanding basic rights and freedoms, demanding the simplest things that can be expected in life — a plate of food, access to medicine — faced repression by troops in antiriot gear, police and agents in plainclothes who opened fire and beat and arrested demonstrators.

The repression and images of bloodied faces that circulated online were the result of President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s reaction to the popular demands. Speaking on national TV, he gave fighting orders: “To the streets, revolutionaries,” he said as the security apparatus was deployed.

But the bravest Cubans were the ones who lost their fear and took to the streets: those from the poorest, most marginalized neighborhoods, those for whom living in Cuba has become even harder than usual. This time it wasn’t a handful of artists and opposition activists who have been “instrumentalized,” as the regime likes to say. The protests happened spontaneously, something this inept government can’t hide.

Cubans have moved on from complaining in whispers inside their own houses and nodding in disapproval in the streets to taking real action. The protests have shaken up the regime. I don’t think things will be the same in Cuba anymore: The game has changed, and a new set of rules could change our future.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/12/cuba-protests-change-diaz-canel-repression/

The White House, July 12, 2021

Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on Protests in Cuba

July 12, 2021 • Statements and Releases

We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected. The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/07/12/statement-by-president-joseph-r-biden-jr-on-protests-in-cuba/

July 11, 2021

Chairman Menendez Statement on Historic Day of Anti-Regime Protests in Cuba

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today issued the following statement in reaction to a day of massive protests in cities and towns across Cuba calling for the end of the communist dictatorship:

“In an historic day of protests, the world is bearing witness as thousands of Cubans take to the streets to call for an end to dictatorship in their country. Despite ongoing persecution on the island, Cubans are bravely joining to demand nothing more than the ability to live safely and speak their minds, freely, openly, and without fear.

“For decades, Cuba’s dictatorship has used violence and repression to silence its people, rather than permit the free exercise of democracy and their basic social rights. This must end. The world’s eyes are on Cuba tonight and the dictatorship must understand we will not tolerate the use of brute force to silence the aspirations of the Cuban people.

“As I’ve said over the years, no one wishes that the reality in Cuba was more different than the Cuban people and Cuban-Americans that have fled the island in search of freedom. Let us hear their voices. Listen to their cries of desperation. Support their demands by ensuring we do not perpetuate the regime’s decades of repression.

“I will continue to use the strength of my voice and power of my office to ensure the United States stands in solidarity with the brave people of Cuba that are risking their lives today for change in their country and a future of Patria y Vida.”

https://www.foreign.senate.gov/press/chair/release/chairman-menendez-statement-on-historic-day-of-anti-regime-protests-in-cuba-

The Washingtin Post, July 12, 2021

Cubans hold biggest anti-government protests in decades; Biden says U.S. stands with people

By Anthony Faiola

July 12, 2021

MIAMI — Communist Cuba erupted in its largest-scale demonstrations in decades on Sunday as thousands of people chanting “freedom” and “yes, we can” took to the streets from Havana to Santiago de Cuba in a major new challenge to an authoritarian government struggling to cope with increasingly severe blackouts, food shortages and a spiking coronavirus outbreak.

The protests, from Havana’s famous Malecon to small towns and the island nation’s eastern cities, spoke to the power of social media, as well as discontent that has bubbled to the surface in the worsening pandemic, during which Cuba has already witnessed growing political protests led by artists and musicians. They appear to have started in the city of San Antonio de los Baños and spread rapidly as demonstrators shared protests on Facebook Live.

The demonstrations were so large that President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who succeeded Raúl Castro this year as first secretary of the Communist Party, called on Cuba’s “revolutionary” citizens to take to the streets.

President Biden called on the “Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves.”

“We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” he said in a statement Monday. “The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected.”

Cubans are using social media to air their grievances — and the government is responding, sometimes

On Monday morning, Diaz-Canel denounced the protesters as “vulgar criminals” who he claimed had attacked police and looted stores. But his tone was less bombastic than the day before.

At a news conference, he decried “those who seek to discredit the revolution and fracture the unity of our country,” and presented ministers who offered technical updates on citizens’ bread-and-butter concerns. Officials vowed to improve the response to the country’s worsening covid outbreak by turning schools and hotels into isolation centers and emergency hospitals. They said the energy problems that have caused worsening blackouts were being worked out.

Witnesses said Cuban security personnel deployed tear gas and other forms of force Sunday to disperse crowds and used vehicles to detain dozens of people. There were reports of multiple people wounded as security forces and pro-government counter-demonstrators clashed with protesters.

“I have never seen such a protest in my life,” Noel Alonso Ginoris, 26, a writer and member of Havana’s San Isidro artists movement that has sought to challenge government authority, said by phone.

He joined the protests in Havana about 1 p.m. Sunday after seeing videos of demonstrations across the island. In central Havana, he said he saw a clash between protesters and about 50 pro-government demonstrators who were being guarded by police.

“That’s when things got tense and violent,” he said.

The two groups, he said, started confronting each other until the police intervened.

“Everyone started running; it was like a movie scene,” he said. “I saw one man very close to me, an older man in a blue pullover. They threw him to the ground, tied his hands and arrested him because he shouted ‘Freedom.’ ”

On social media, images appeared of Cuban citizens confronting officials in the authoritarian state, standing on what appeared to be overturned police cars and talking into cameras, bloodied and defiant after melees with government loyalists and police.

The Associated Press reported that a pro-government group assaulted an AP cameraman, disabling his camera, while an AP photographer was injured by the police.

José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, said his group had received reports that at least 20 people had been arrested. He added the organization had received reports of violence being used by Cuban forces, a claim echoed by social media users sharing videos of wounded protesters.

“This is pretty massive,” he said. “My sense is that this is a combination of social unrest based on a lack of freedoms, and covid, and economic conditions. The lack of access to electricity. The blackouts. … People are screaming for freedom.”

Norges Rodríguez, co-founder of YucaByte, a website on Cuban affairs, said the protests appeared to be the result of a spontaneous “domino effect” from San Antonio de los Baños, 16 miles from Havana, outward. Videos shared on social media from the scene showed Cuban security forces manhandling protesters.

The protests exceeded frustrations of food lines and power scarcities, venturing into a challenge to the police state itself. Protesters could be heard chanting “Patria y Vida” — Homeland and Life — a play on the communist slogan “Homeland or Death” that has become a social media phenomenon among Cuban artists, musicians and dissidents.

“There are thousands of people,” Rodríguez said. “This is big.”

The protests were among the largest since the Cuban revolution of 1959 and appeared broader based than the 1994 Maleconazo protest in Havana that precipitated Fidel Castro, the father of the Cuban revolution and then-leader, to allow thousands of Cubans to flee the country by boats and rafts.

Nidialys Acosta, 45, a rental car and delivery company owner who is among the small class of private entrepreneurs in Cuba, said by phone that she first heard about protests through a Telegram group.

“I could not believe the magnitude,” she said.

“People are tired,” she said. “It has been aggravated in recent weeks by blackouts. There are blackouts of six hours in a row in the countryside.”

Acosta and her husband started a delivery business after demand at their antique car rental business plummeted during the pandemic. The economy, she said, is worse than ever.

“The situation is complex and this year the problem with getting food had made it worse.”

Still, she said, protests in the middle of a pandemic are not the solution. “This is not the time to do it,” she said, “and Diaz-Canel inciting the revolutionaries to the streets is crazy. I don’t agree with either of them.”

During his news conference Monday, Diaz-Canel blamed the U.S. embargo for Cuba’s deepening woes. He denounced a “nonconventional war” and a digital space that has taken root in Cuba in recent years for challenging the revolution. He said agitators were trying to portray him as a “tyrant” when the real culprit in the acute food and fuel shortages, which in recent weeks reached some of the worse conditions ever seen on the island, was the U.S. government.

“This policy of sanctions that prevents any kind of fuel arriving in Cuba has put us in a very difficult situation,” Diaz-Canel said.

Cuban journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa tweeted from Havana: “Cuba is an island ruled by the military for 62 years. Today there is no food, no medicine, and people are dying like flies from covid. People got tired. This country is losing even fear.”

The protests sparked a Twitter war across the Straits of Florida. Cuban American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a sharp critic of the communist government, called on President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to ask “members of the Cuban military to not fire on their own people.”

“The incompetent Communist Party of #Cuba cannot feed or protect the people from the virus,” Rubio tweeted. “Now those in the military must defend the people not the Communist Party.”

Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted: “We are deeply concerned by ‘calls to combat’ in #Cuba. We stand by the Cuban people’s right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence.”

Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, head of U.S. affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said he warned the United States to refrain from igniting the situation.

“US State Department and its officials, involved to their necks in promoting social and political instability in #Cuba, should avoid expressing hypocritical concern for a situation they have been betting on,” he tweeted. “Cuba is and will continue to be a peaceful country, contrary to the US.”

The Cuban government shared footage later in the day of pro-government counterprotesters chanting in the streets.

Cuba is confronting its worst economic emergency since the “special period,” when the collapse of the Soviet Union, Havana’s principal patron, sparked years of hunger and desperation.

 The protests underscore the risks the Cuban government took by opening the nation of 11 million more broadly to the Internet in 2019, when the country gained access to 3G mobile telephone service that made it easier to use social media.

Activists have used social media to amplify their dissent, particularly after the arrest last year of Denis Solís, a Havana rapper and government critic. Another musician, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, began a high-profile hunger strike; his protest echoed across Cuba and the world.

 On Eighth Street in Miami — the heart of the city’s Little Havana neighborhood — hundreds of Cuban Americans gathered in what many described as an act of solidarity with friends and family members on the island.

 One man drove through the neighboring streets while tugging a boat with a large “Patria y Vida” sign. Many vehicles blared the song that has become an anthem for those demanding change on the island. Young men and women waved giant Cuban flags.

 “We’ve come here to support our people,” said Lucy Febles, 57, a cleaner at the University of Miami who insisted on stopping by after finishing work at 10 p.m. She said her relatives had marched earlier in the day on the island. “I’m very hopeful. We haven’t seen this before. People are tired.” 

Alexander Otaola, a social media influencer, spoke to the crowd through a bullhorn.

“Today we are an example of courage to the world,” he said in Spanish to cheers. “Long live a free Cuba!”  

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/07/11/cuba-protests/

The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2021

Cuba’s Unrest Frames World’s Big Struggle: Dictators vs. Democracies

By Gerald F. Seib

July 12, 2021 9:26 AM 

The world was treated on Sunday to an amazing sight: thousands of Cubans taking to the streets in a wave of demonstrations demanding, among other things, an end to a 62-year-old dictatorship.

Beyond serving as a milestone moment for the island nation, the demonstrations in at least 15 cities marked the latest installment in the greatest struggle of our times: the contest between democrats and authoritarians. In recent years, authoritarians often have seemed to hold the upper hand. Yet the Cuban unrest serves to frame the key question: whether authoritarian regimes will prevail in the long term, or are sowing the seeds of their own demise. 

The Cubans who took to the streets appeared to have some more immediate concerns on their minds. They were protesting a lack of food and a shortage of Covid-19 vaccines. But their willingness to take their protests to the actual doorstep of Cuba’s Communist Party headquarters showed a deeper dissatisfaction.

It’s hard to say whether Cubans on the streets, like citizens of Hong Kong pushing back against Chinese central government repression there, represent the beginnings of a new anti-authoritarian tide or mere footnotes in a generally bad time for those who cheer for democracy.

Certainly authoritarian regimes appear to be having a good run right now. Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting freedom and democracy, reports that freedom across the globe has declined for 15 straight years, a trend that accelerated last year. “The long democratic recession is deepening,” Freedom House says. 

Across a swath of central Europe and central Asia in particular, a total of 18 countries suffered declines in democratic trends last year, while only six in those regions saw improvement.

Those trend lines, and the staying power of authoritarian rulers, are apparent among the world leaders who pose the greatest challenges to the U.S. and the Biden administration. In Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been the country’s supreme leader for 32 years, triple the time that Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, held the post. This year, he stage-managed an election that put his chosen candidate into the presidency, and who is likely on track to become the next supreme leader when Mr. Khamenei dies. 

In Russia, Vladimir Putin has been in power, as president or prime minister, for 22 years, longer than the seemingly immovable Leonid Brezhnev ran the Soviet Union. Mr. Putin is moving up on Joseph Stalin, who ruled for 29 years, and is well positioned to pass him in longevity, considering that he has rearranged Russian law so that he can stay in power for more than another decade.

In China, President Xi Jinping has been running the show for a mere nine years, yet he has developed a cult of personality and engineered a removal of term limits, thereby allowing him to become ruler for life. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro seem no less intent on squelching any threats to their personal power.

So this seems a boom time for autocrats. Yet the seething unhappiness in Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Hong Kong, and the need for Mr. Putin to poison and jail his opponents, raises the question of how long the authoritarian run can last. Is it possible that embedded autocracies create the conditions for their own eventual downfall?

Democracy is messy, but in an authoritarian system the problem is the lack of messiness. Cults of personality develop, opposing voices with potentially good ideas are squelched, healthy debates and innovative thoughts are blocked. In a new piece in Foreign Affairs magazine, China expert Jude Blanchette notes this risk for Mr. Xi in China: “Paeans to the greatness of ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ may strike outsiders as merely curious or even comical, but they have a genuinely deleterious effect on the quality of decision-making and information flows within the (Communist) party.”

At least China has done a good job of managing its economy. Elsewhere, authoritarian systems have produced a plundering of national resources, corruption and a general mismanagement of the economy. 

“In the long term, you would expect autocrats to pay the price,” says Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “The problem is, the long run can be a very long time.”

He notes that today’s autocrats are more politically savvy and attuned to meeting material needs when necessary to blunt calls for civil liberties. And, of course, authoritarians can operate in a more closed information environment.

So, yes, maybe autocrats lay the groundwork for their own demise. But they also may be getting better at being autocrats. Meanwhile, democracy’s best offense—especially in the U.S., leader of the free world—is simply to make democracy work better so it is more easily seen as the superior alternative.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/cubas-unrest-frames-worlds-big-struggle-dictators-vs-democracies-11626096393