CubaBrief: Update on the protests in Cuba with over 5,000 detained or missing and footage of Castro’s agents shooting at Cubans

Some videos of the ongoing repression are reaching the outside world, and it should concern human rights defenders everywhere. Below are images of officials firing on fleeing protesters in Cuba.

The Washington Post editorial, “After the Cuba protests, a regime shows its true colors” reported that on Sunday the protest began in San Antonio de los Baños, just South of Havana, and quickly spread thanks to the power of social media spread across the country, but was met with “force and coercion.”  Yoani Sanchez’s news outfit 14ymedio reported 5,000 detained and Cubalex today has identified and reported on over 368 missing or detained.

Professor Carlos Eire in National Review describes in more detail how the regime responded. “The response from Cuba’s oligarchs has been predictable. Immediately, Internet access was shut off — and is still off three days later. Soldiers, police, and mobs of thugs egged on by the country’s sullen, figurehead president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, descended on the protesters, firing bullets at them, beating them with clubs and rake handles, shoving as many as they could catch into vehicles that took them straight to prison or simply made them disappear.”

Some would have you believe that protests in Cuba are a rare phenomenon. They are not, but nationwide or mass protests involving thousands and tens of thousands are due to the lack of communication, and regime surveillance and repression.  Havana on August 5, 1994 had a social explosion with large numbers of protesters and they were met with an extremely violent response from the dictatorship.

This time it is different. Fidel Castro is dead, and Raul Castro turns 90 in 2021 is a shadow of his former self.  The Wall Street Journal editorial board on January 12th outlined what some of the next steps should be. “The U.S. can tighten the financial squeeze and impose Magnitsky sanctions on Cuba’s human-rights violators. Helping protesters foil Cuba’s internet shutdown would be invaluable, and a warning to Russia and China not to meddle by propping up the regime is warranted. The odds on a freedom revolution may be long, but the Cuban people need to hear loud and clear that America is on their side, and not on the Communist regime’s.”

The best way to protect protesters, and the democratic aspirations of Cubans is to both name and shame and  hold accountable those officials giving the orders to beat up demonstrators with baseball bats or having them shot. Let them know that their financial assets abroad will be frozen, and that they will not be able to travel to free countries to either vacation or migrate. This regime is showing its true colors, and it is time for the international community recognize and denounce the true nature of the dictatorship

Cubans have spoken out nonviolently and within Cuban law before, and been met with a brutal response. “In 2002 and 2003, the Castro regime was faced with another outpouring of demands for democracy. More than 25,000 Cubans had signed the Varela Project citizen petition, created by opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, calling for free speech, a free press, freedom of association, freedom of belief, private enterprise, free elections and freedom for political prisoners.

The National Democratic Institute in September 2002, awarded Oswaldo Payá the NDI’s 15th Annual W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award “for his courageous efforts in promoting peaceful democratic change in Cuba.” NDI also produced a documentary on the Varela Project, titled  “Dissident: Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project.” Please watch it and share it with others.

The response then, too, was an attempt to crush the popular demands. In what later came to be known as the ‘Black Spring,’ 75 people, including those collecting Varela Project signatures, activists and journalists, were arrested in March 2003 and sentenced to long prison terms. Mr. Payá was killed in a suspicious car wreck in 2012,” reported The Washington Post Editorial Board.

Following the crackdown Czech-Chilean filmmaker Carlos Gonzalez visited with families of political prisoners and with Oswaldo Payá and made the 2003 documentary “La Primavera de Cuba” [ The Cuban Spring] (2003) which has subtitles and can be also viewed in its entirety below.

Next week on July 22nd will mark nine years since Oswaldo was killed by state security, and today Cubans are still being murdered by the secret police for nonviolently demanding change. It is time for the international community to step up and back Cuba’s democrats.

Latin America is divided on the question, and too many in Europe are looking the other way due to ideological questions, and economic interests. It is up to the United States to lead and forge a multilateral coalition for democracy in Cuba.

The Washington Post, July 14, 2021

The Post’s View

Opinion: After the Cuba protests, a regime shows its true colors

Protesters in Havana on July 11. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

Protesters in Havana on July 11. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

Opinion by the Editorial Board

July 14, 2021

The most striking aspect of Sunday’s remarkable demonstrations in Cuba was their spontaneity. The most striking aspect of the government’s response was the dreary repetition of its timeworn repressive measures. Once Cuba’s security services realized that hundreds of people were in the streets protesting, they swung into gear, as they have many times before, to extinguish the outburst of free speech and assembly.

The initial spark was a Facebook live video from San Antonio de los Baños, south of Havana, showing protesters in the street, fed up with electricity blackouts, food shortages, rampant coronavirus infections and a police state run by the Communist Party of Cuba. The video was up for about 50 minutes and caught on quickly, inspiring protests across the island, but then was cut off. By Monday, according to Internet monitors, Cuban authorities had largely shut down Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram — although not Twitter. Mobile screens largely went dark this week, making it extremely difficult for activists and independent journalists to communicate. Videos from the Sunday protests showed hundreds of people with smartphones lifted above their heads to record the demonstrations. This was the most digital-savvy revolt yet in Cuba — until the regime severed the connections.

Next, the regime turned to force and coercion. The government confirmed one person died Monday during a clash between protesters and police. But unverified reports circulating in Cuba suggests the use of force to crush the protests was widespread. Videos circulating on social media showed people being roughed up by security forces. Witnesses have reported many detained or missing; activists have circulated a list of more than 100. The independent online news portal 14ymedio says that, based on fragmentary reports, there are more than 5,000 people imprisoned or being investigated for participating in the protests, among them more than 120 activists and independent journalists. A reporter for a Madrid newspaper, Camila Acosta, was among those arrested, along with three Baptist priests. The goal of such sweeping repression and arrests is to instill fear, to intimidate and silence those who would speak their minds.

In 2002 and 2003, the Castro regime was faced with another outpouring of demands for democracy. More than 25,000 Cubans had signed the Varela Project citizen petition, created by opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, calling for free speech, a free press, freedom of association, freedom of belief, private enterprise, free elections and freedom for political prisoners. The response then, too, was an attempt to crush the popular demands. In what later came to be known as the “Black Spring,” 75 people, including those collecting Varela Project signatures, activists and journalists, were arrested in March 2003 and sentenced to long prison terms. Mr. Payá was killed in a suspicious car wreck in 2012.

Protests have flared in Cuba over the years, but Sunday’s outpouring was extraordinary. Cuba’s regime responded by showing its true character — a dictatorship — and its determination to remain one.

National Review, July 14, 2021

Cuba on the Edge: Rejecting Big Brother and the Big Lie


July 14, 2021 11:24 AM

Something truly wondrous has just happened in Cuba. For the very first time in the 62 years since the Castro dynasty turned the island into a totalitarian dystopia, Cubans have taken to the streets from one end of the island to the other, denouncing their repressive government and calling for freedom. The protesters can be viewed on You Tube and social media, chanting “liberty,” “down with the dictatorship,” and “down with communism” rhythmically, much like prayers from resolute pilgrims. And they can also be heard shouting a challenge to their rulers: “We are not afraid.” That chant does not resemble a prayer at all. It’s a taunt, a war cry, a rebel yell. And it is coming mostly from young Cubans, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the so-called Revolution.

Anyone who has lived in a free and open society, accustomed to frequent demonstrations of displeasure with the status quo, in which none of the participants are beaten or thrown into prison, cannot even begin to imagine the courage or desperation it takes to express dissent in a totalitarian dictatorship such as that of Cuba. No clue at all, really. You have to live in such a place — where an inordinate percentage of the country’s budget is dedicated to keeping Big Brother’s eye fixed on you — in order to appreciate the magnitude of the fearlessness and despair needed to loosen one’s tongue out on the street alongside one’s neighbors.

These protests are among the most dramatic proofs ever offered of the failure of the tropical dictatorship that has been calling itself a “Revolution” for six long decades and has driven 20 percent of its people into exile. Innumerable promises for a brighter future have been made during this time by the military junta that has ruled Cuba since the days when cars had tailfins and the top songs in the U.S. charts were Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” and Domenico Modugno’s “Volare.” Well, surprise, surprise, the future is here, and the youngsters can clearly see that all of those promises have turned out to be lies. Now, those who were supposed to reap the benefits of decades of sacrifice, self-denial, and unquestioning obedience demanded by Big Brother are out on the streets, shouting at their aging masters — and the world — that they are tired of living a lie.

The response from Cuba’s oligarchs has been predictable. Immediately, Internet access was shut off — and is still off three days later. Soldiers, police, and mobs of thugs egged on by the country’s sullen, figurehead president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, descended on the protesters, firing bullets at them, beating them with clubs and rake handles, shoving as many as they could catch into vehicles that took them straight to prison or simply made them disappear. Díaz-Canel staged a counter-rally of his own surrounded by a squadron of bodyguards and portly members of the ruling class who had no choice but to accept their invitation to this event. He also appeared on television and called on all “revolutionaries and communists” to “combat the mercenaries paid by the American government,” take back the streets from them, and “protect” the sacred “Revolution.”

This sudden eruption of fearless dissent has been caused by a perfect storm of calamities, all of which have revealed the big lie of the so-called Revolution as no other crisis has ever done before. Lately, life in Cuba has become more unbearable than ever for just about every Cuban, except for those who rule the place. The crisis is due to a long string of blunders and catastrophes. There are too many to list in total, but here are a few: the loss of revenue from Venezuela, a collapsed economy, gargantuan foreign debt, a disastrous sugar harvest, uncontrolled inflation, a plague that is intensifying rather than abating, a collapsing health-care system, medication shortages, food shortages, water shortages, long lines and empty shelves at every store, electricity blackouts, and increased repression.

Never mind the sanctions by the United States or the so-called embargo that Cuba’s military junta and many of the world’s news outlets blame for the current crisis. These are inconsequential factors, a blame-shifting decoy skillfully manipulated by the oligarchs for far too long in order to draw attention away from their own abject ineptitude and from the congenital defects of the communism they embraced and forced on all Cubans. When it comes to assigning blame, much more is truly deserved by the thousands of tourists invited back to Cuba’s apartheid resorts prematurely and irresponsibly as new strains of COVID-19 were emerging. These foreign “dream holiday” seekers are a significant component of this year’s perfect storm, but, thanks to the country’s apartheid, most Cubans remain unaware of their presence on the island or of the infections they have passed on to employees at the resorts, who have then brought the virus to their homes and neighborhoods. 

Another significant component of this year’s perfect storm is the undeniable fact that the Castro dynasty has vanished. Fidel is dead, his ashes tucked away in a monolith that looks like a prop from the Flintstones movie. Raúl has slunk off stage at age 90, without any applause, much less a standing ovation. And after a great deal of minister-shuffling at the most recent Communist Party Congress, the man left in charge — ostensibly — is Miguel Díaz-Canel, a hulking figure without an ounce of charisma who seems to be incapable of saying anything halfway intelligent or inspiring. Assuming the persona of Big Brother and selling the Big Lie are challenges beyond his ken, so despite all the rhetoric he and his ministers spew about the “continuity” of the so-called Revolution, Cubans can see that he really hasn’t inherited any mantle, but is really buck naked, so to speak, just like the main character in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” One can only hope and pray at this moment that he will prove as inept at repression as he has at inspiring confidence.

These protests are not really about the pandemic or shortages falsely blamed on U.S. foreign policy. The bottom line is that these protesters know the ultimate cause of their distress is their lack of freedom in all spheres of life, which is nothing new. So, the young who feel they have the most to lose by remaining silent, with nothing but a bleak future on their horizon, have taken to the streets as no one has dared to do up until now on such a scale. As John Suarez, director of the Center for a Free Cuba said yesterday: “What’s causing the troubles in Cuba is the internal blockade that the regime has placed on Cubans, and that’s why the Cubans are protesting the regime. They’re not out front of the U.S. Embassy protesting the U.S. embargo, they’re protesting the government because they know who’s responsible for what they’re suffering. It’s not an accident.”

The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2021

An Uprising of Despair in Cuba

Biden sounds the right notes but there’s more the U.S. can do.

By The Editorial Board

July 12, 2021 6:48 pm ET

The remarkable protests in Cuba this weekend show that the Cuban people still yearn for a life free of tyranny despite decades of repression. President Biden hit the right note on Monday by expressing American support for the protesters, and let’s hope he follows through by increasing pressure on the regime.

Protests aren’t uncommon in Cuba, where most people live in desperate poverty while a narrow governing elite benefit from a state-owned economy that depends on dollars and euros from abroad. But Sunday’s uprising was unusual in that it developed almost spontaneously and expanded across the island as the message spread on social media and apps like Telegram.

The protests weren’t planned or organized. Cubans massed in the streets to register their opposition to the economic fallout from Covid-19, which has been mismanaged on the island; widespread shortages of food and medicine; and the numerous daily blackouts from failing electric power.

Protesters picked up the cry of freedom and sang the popular “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life) as a way of repudiating Che Guevara’s revolutionary slogan “Homeland or Death.” Social media is dangerous to the dictatorship because it allows people to share their dissatisfaction and feel they aren’t alone.

 [ Rest of the Editorial ]

Reuters, July 14, 2021

Latin America split along ideological lines in Cuba protests

MEXICO CITY, July 13 (Reuters) – Latin American governments have split along ideological lines over widespread protests in Cuba, with Mexico’s president blaming the U.S. embargo for fomenting the unrest while Chile and Peru urged the Cuban government to allow pro-democracy protests.

Thousands of Cubans have participated in the biggest protests in decades on the Communist-run island, calling for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down.

Cuban authorities detained some activists and have restricted access to social media and messaging platforms since Monday, according to global internet monitoring firm NetBlocks.

The governments of Chile and Peru on Tuesday both defended the rights of the Cuban people to protest.

“There is no justification to promote repressive measures that try to silence citizens who peacefully ask for greater freedom, timely and dignified health, and a better quality of life,” the Chilean government said in a statement.

Cuban authorities should “allow them to demonstrate freely and without intimidation,” it added.

Meanwhile, the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, in a Twitter message, called for international collaboration to cooperate with the people and the government of Cuba.

The government of Peru’s interim president, the centrist Francisco Sagasti, “supports the right of the Cuban people to demonstrate freely and peacefully and invokes the authorities to consider their requirements in a democratic spirit,” the ministry said. 

The tone was different in Mexico. Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said he was asking the Cuban government what sort of humanitarian aid would help as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador doubled down on his stance that a decades-old U.S. embargo was to blame for the unrest. 

Ebrard said he was speaking with Cuban officials through Mexico’s leadership role in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a leftist regional body, after mass street protests on the island over shortages of basic goods.

Mexico’s top diplomat added that he spoke with his Cuban counterpart on Monday in a bid to establish communication and see “what can be done on behalf of the entire community.”

Speaking alongside Ebrard at a news conference, Lopez Obrador blamed the U.S. economic embargo for Cuba’s problems.

“They are going through a difficult situation that I basically attribute to the blockade,” he said.

One of the most prominent leftists in Latin America, the Mexican president has urged a peaceful resolution and offered to send medicines, vaccines and food if requested by Cuba.

Newsweek, July 13, 2021

Russia, China, Iran Warn U.S. Must Not Intervene in Cuba


Russia, China and Iran have warned the United States that it must not intervene in Cuba after the island was rocked by major protests for which U.S. President Joe Biden cast his support.

As Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez railed against “the increased aggression of the U.S. government” during lengthy remarks delivered to the press Tuesday in the wake of historic anti-government demonstrations alleging shortages in COVID-19 vaccines and basic humanitarian needs, his message was echoed by three powers deeply critical of Washington’s foreign policy toward Havana, and in many other parts of the world.

In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met with Cuban ambassador Julio Garmendia Peña for a discussion earlier Tuesday in which “the Russian side expressed solidarity with Cuba’s government and people, and promised all-round support to the efforts towards the soonest normalization of the situation,” according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“The sides expressed confidence that the situation will return to normal soon,” the readout said, “and stressed the inadmissibility of foreign interference and other destructive actions that are fraught with the destabilization in Cuba.”

Moscow was Havana’s top supporter during the days of the Soviet Union and Cuba-Russian relations remain robust today, including through mutual backing of Venezuela’s socialist government, which, like Cuba, is subject to U.S. sanctions.

China referenced the U.S. measures in its own defense of Cuba’s position as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press briefing Tuesday that, “the U.S. embargo is the root cause of Cuba’s shortage of medicines and energy.”

The decades-long U.S. restrictions against trade with Cuba were condemned last month for the 29th consecutive time by the United Nations General Assembly in a near-unanimous 184-2 vote. Zhao called on Biden to lift the sanctions, which were briefly relaxed under former President Barack Obama, before being reinstated by his successor, Donald Trump.

And Zhao also lashed out at any outside attempts to interfere in fellow communist-led Cuba.

“China firmly opposes foreign interference in Cuba’s internal affairs, firmly supports what Cuba has done in fighting COVID-19, improving people’s livelihood and upholding social stability, and firmly supports Cuba in exploring a development path suited to its national conditions,” Zhao said. “I’d like to stress that China stands ready to work with Cuba to implement the important consensus of the two heads of state and is firmly committed to deepening friendly relations between the two countries.”

Also critical of the U.S. role was Iran, another country subject to severe sanctions lifted by Obama and then put back in place under Trump.

“In this situation, where the United States is primarily responsible for the many problems created for the Cuban people,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters Tuesday, “it is trying to appear as a supporter of the Cuban protests and has tried to interfere in the internal affairs of this country in a blatant violation of international rules.”

Iran, he said, “while condemning the illegal U.S. sanctions, which are an important factor in the economic hardships of the Cuban people, has condemned any interference in the internal affairs of this country and as a country facing illegal and oppressive U.S. sanctions. 

While the U.S. is currently engaged in negotiations, albeit indirect, with Iran as part of an effort to return to the 2015 nuclear deal struck the same year Obama carried out a historic thaw with Cold War-era foe Cuba, no plans to reengage Havana have been announced by Washington.

Biden has instead emphasized his backing for the demonstrations that took Cuba by storm on Sunday.

The president began remarks focused on his efforts to reduce gun crime Monday by “recognizing the remarkable protests that are taking place in Cuba, with the Cuban people demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime.”

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this protest in a long, long time—if, quite frankly, ever,” Biden said. “The United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. And we call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence or attempts to silence the voice of the people of Cuba.” 

He declined to say whether he was considering lifting the embargo on Cuba, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated the president’s initial message on Tuesday.

The State Department remains in the midst of a policy review of the past administration’s ongoing policies toward Cuba, which Biden previously criticized on the campaign trail last September as having “inflicted harm on the Cuban people and have done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the policy review “focuses on the political and economic well-being of the Cuban people, and obviously, we’re looking carefully and closely at what has just happened, what indeed is happening.

“And as we stated many times, at the heart of the review and at the heart of the policy that would result are democracy and human rights,” he added. “That’s core to our efforts. That will be reflected in the policy.” 

Blinken also warned that “it would be a grievous mistake for the Cuban regime to interpret what is happening in dozens of towns and cities across the island as the result or product of anything the United States has done.” 

“It would be a grievous mistake because it would show that they simply are not hearing the voices and will of the Cuban people,” Blinken said, “people deeply, deeply, deeply tired of the repression that has gone on for far too long, tired of the mismanagement of the Cuban economy, tired of the lack of adequate food, and of course, inadequate response to the COVID pandemic.”


Politico, July 13, 2021

Mayorkas to Cubans, Haitians: Do not come to the U.S.


07/13/2021 05:16 PM EDT 

Cuban-born Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday delivered a clear message to the Cuban and Haitian people amid upheaval in both Caribbean nations: Do not come to the United States.

“The time is never right to attempt migration by sea,” Mayorkas said in a press conference at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters. “To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking.”

“Allow me to be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.” 

Mayorkas’ message comes amid continued protests in Cuba calling for the end of the 62-year-old dictatorship and the recent assassination of the president of Haiti.

The Biden administration has expressed solidarity with the thousands of Cubans protesting on the communist-run island, but so far has not shared any concrete plans or policy to help them. On Sunday, a delegation of U.S. officials traveled to Haiti to discuss the Haitian government’s ask for U.S. assistance following the president’s assassination.

Protesters march in Havana, Cuba.

Anti-government protesters march in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in several cities in Cuba to protest against ongoing food shortages and high prices of foodstuffs.

Many migrants attempting to reach the United States by sea have died on the dangerous trek over the years. In recent weeks, 20 migrants have died at sea, Mayorkas said.

So far, the U.S. has not seen a surge in Cuban or Haitian migrants by sea, Mayorkas said. But the U.S. Coast Guard has deployed officials to monitor the situation by air and sea in the Florida Straits and Caribbean Sea, he said.

“Any migrant intercepted at sea, regardless of their nationality, will not be permitted to enter the United States,” Mayorkas said.

In fiscal 2021, 470 Cubans and 313 Haitians have been intercepted at sea, compared to 49 Cubans and 430 Haitians in fiscal 2020, Mayorkas said.

In May, Mayorkas announced the designation of temporary protected status for Haiti, a designation that allows Haitians who were present in the U.S. at the time of the announcement to be granted legal status for 18 months. Mayorkas emphasized on Tuesday that TPS for Haitians “is not an immigration program” and only benefits those already in the U.S. in May.

The Biden administration is “assessing” parole programs that would help Cubans and Haitians in their home countries who want to migrate, Mayorkas said, pointing out that the Trump administration ended those programs. President Joe Biden on the campaign trail promised to reinstate the Cuban family reunification parole program, but six months into his term has not done so. 

Some Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have expressed concern that the Cuban government will begin to encourage mass migration to the United States as it did in 1994, when Cuba last saw large-scale protests. However, U.S.-Cuba experts say that level of migration by sea is less likely to happen this time around, given that Washington no longer has an immigration policy in place that welcomes Cubans when they reach U.S. soil.

Reuters, July 13, 2021

Spain demands immediate release of ABC reporter detained in Cuba

Reporting by Nathan Allen and Belén Carreño

July 13, 2021 8:42 AM

MADRID, July 13 (Reuters) – Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares called on Cuba on Tuesday to immediately release Camila Acosta, a journalist detained in Havana on Monday after covering civil unrest in the country for Spanish newspaper ABC.

“Spain defends the right to demonstrate freely and peacefully and asks the Cuban authorities to respect it…We demand the immediate release of Camila Acosta,” tweeted Albares on his second day in the job. 

Cuba’s government cracked down on activists on Monday night after mass protests drew thousands to the streets over the weekend in the biggest anti-government demonstrations seen on the Communist-ruled island in decades. read more

Acosta, who describes herself on Twitter as an independent Cuban journalist, had been writing for ABC and uploading photos of the unrest to social media.

At least 100 protesters, activists, and independent journalists have been detained nationwide since Sunday, according to exiled rights group Cubalex.

Right-leaning Spanish daily ABC said Cuba planned to charge Acosta with alleged “crimes against state security”, and called on Madrid to put diplomatic pressure on Havana to secure her release.

Albares took up his post on Monday after a surprise ministerial reshuffle on Saturday, which saw his predecessor Arancha Gonzalez Laya ejected from the cabinet. read more

He had previously served as Spain’s ambassador to France.