CubaBrief: The August 5, 1994 Maleconazo protests in Cuba, the Castro dictatorship, and the lengths it is ready to go to maintain power.

Images from the Maleconazo protests in Havana, Cuba on August 5, 1994.

Cubans have been calling for freedom for decades. On July 11, 2021, tens of thousands of people around the island took part in statewide protests. On August 5, 1994, however, hundreds, if not thousands, of Cubans took to the streets for the first time since the early 1960s. It happened in Havana and it is known as the Maleconazo.

Cubans marched thru Havana’s streets chanting “Freedom!” and “Down with the Castros.” State Security agents, political police, and paramilitaries responded by shooting unarmed protesters or beating them down.

The Castro dictatorship again demonstrated the will to shoot unarmed demonstrators, and in different locations in Havana military trucks with special troops, and 50 caliber machine guns patrolled the streets to terrorize the populace.

Cubans were beaten down, shot, jailed, and killed. Twenty nine years later and the full scale of repression remains unknown. 

What is known is that at least three Cubans were killed, hundreds injured, and 370 arrested.

Like their Chinese communist counterparts in 1989 , the Castro regime demonstrated its will to hang on to power in August 1994 no matter the cost in lives, and did it again in July 2021 with Miguel Diaz-Canel saying the quiet part out loud: “They would have to pass over our dead bodies if they want to confront the Revolution, and we are willing to resort to anything.”

Secret police in plain clothes fired live ammunition at protesters on August 5, 1994

Porno para Ricardo, a Cuban punk rock band, released an album titled Maleconazo Ahora! in 2013 to commemorate the August 5, 1994 protests, with the cover depicting a screen grab of a defiant protester from that day and calling for many more such protests. In 2012, they also produced a track called “El Maleconazo” to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the mass demonstration.

On August 1, 2023, Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter published an essay comparing 11J and 5A, two historic moments of spontaneous eruptions of public defiant appeals for the end of dictatorship and for freedom. During these huge protests, the regime used lethal force and made mass arrests. Democratic Spaces in 2020 made an outstanding English video overview.

It is also worth noting that over 35,000 Cubans signed the Varela Project lobbying the Cuban government for democratic change and human rights between 2002 and 2004. This initiative of the Christian Liberation Movement cost dozens of its members years in Cuban prisons. On July 22, 2012, their founder leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and youth leader Harold Cepero Escalante were assassinated by the secret police.

Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter, August 1, 2023

#5A Maleconazo at 29: When Castro’s secret police shot into crowds of non-violent Cuban protesters with live ammunition

 “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.” – Elie Wiesel  

Secret police in plain clothes fired live ammunition at protesters on August 5, 1994

On August 5, 1994, a thousand Cubans marched through Havana’s streets, yelling “Freedom!” and “Down With Castro!” They were greeted with violent repression, with government operatives dressed in civilian clothes firing live bullets at unarmed Cubans.

It happened again two years ago, on July 11, 2021, but this time it was not only in Havana, but across the island, with tens of thousands of Cubans taking part in over 50 cities and towns. The dictatorship’s response was the same as in 1994, but this time the photographs reached the world almost instantly.  

Cubans chant “Freedom” and “Down with Castro” on August 5, 1994 in Havana

Karel Poort, a Dutch visitor, took photos during the 1994 protests, which were made public in 2013 and matched the anecdotal accounts of the day. Regis Iglesias, a Cuban dissident, explained how the regime militarized the streets in order to scare the populace:  

A convoy of trucks loaded with repressive special forces and a vehicle topped with a 50 caliber machine gun patrolled the long street.

Little has been reported on this, but some photographs and sounds have survived. This, together with the evidence of individuals who were present, provides a greater understanding of what occurred.

What happened?

Five hundred Cubans had gathered at the Havana sea wall (El Malecon) to join a launch thought to be heading to Miami.  These folks did not wish to overthrow the regime, but rather to live in freedom elsewhere. 

They were met by the secret police of the Castro dictatorship, who ordered the throng to disperse.

Rather than defusing the situation, another 500 Cubans joined in and began marching along the Malecon, yelling “Freedom!” and “Down With Castro!” A hundred Special Brigade troops and plain clothes police assaulted the protesters after marching for a kilometer, firing live rounds into the gathering.

Secret police aiming handgun at protesters on August 5, 1994

29 years later and the full details of what transpired remains mostly silenced despite the pictures of regime officials pointing their handguns at the demonstrators combined with reports of the sounds of gun shots and wounded protesters echoing down through the years in anecdotal stories about that day. 

Eyewitness account

Ignacio Martínez Montero

Ignacio Martínez Montero posted on la Voz del Morro a first hand account of what happened that day that is translated to English below:

Then came the year 94 One hot August of that year’s day, I’d arrived at my mother in laws home in Cuba and Chacón in the heart of Old Havana, near the Malecón, for that reason alone, after visiting my mother in law, I sat , like many, on the wall of the bay, very close to where still today the famous Casablanca launch travels in and out. That year was turbulent, constantly talking about boats diverted to Miami, and the tugboat. Maybe that’s why the special brigade trucks arrived and attacked all of us who were sitting. 

Our response to this aggression was only to clamor for freedom. It has been said that we threw stones; but all that is a lie, the truth was that we were tired of so much aggression and without agreeing to we began to walk together screaming, Enough, Down with the revolution … And before reaching Hotel Deauville, a battalion waited for us that attacked us with sticks and iron rods. It was they who made the big mess. They broke my left eyebrow and left me semi-lame. Yes, there were assaults and the aggressors had guns, but not among the civilians. One of the boys who went with us, who was called the Moor, even while handcuffed, they shot him in the torso and it was a miracle that he did not die. Who do you think paid for that? No one. 

They put us in a truck where they received us with beatings only to convince us to scream “Viva Fidel.” They took us to the police station located at L and Malecon. Hours later I was taken to Calixto García hospital. There they attended to my foot and I treated the eyebrow wound; the medical certificate, never appeared. From there we boarded another bus and were taken to the prison 15/80, I could say “kidnapped” because nobody knew where we were. Some kids and nephews of my dad, who were with us, were released immediately. A boy could not take it and ended up hanged. No one learned of this; but we are many the witnesses who know what really happened that August 5th 1994, the day of Maleconazo.

Twenty-nine years later, the Castro regime remains in power, terrorizing, torturing, and murdering nonviolent dissidents, as well as shooting young black men in the back, but some Progressive Americans want to implement Cuban-style policing in the United States, claiming that we can learn a lot from them. They have no idea what they are saying. Unless, of course, they desire a totalitarian police state.

 We invite all people of good will to remember the victims of the Cuban dictatorship.

Diubis Laurencio Tejeda was a 36-year-old singer who was shot in the back by the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Havana on July 12. 

There are others, but they have not been officially recognized. 

This is the case of Christian Díaz, age 24, disappeared after joining the 11J protests. Relatives on July 12 reported him missing to the PNR in Cárdenas. Police told his father that Christian was jailed in Matanzas. On August 5th, officials informed his family he’d drowned in the sea and was buried in a mass grave. His family is convinced he was beaten to death

The events of July 11, 2021 and August 5, 1994, hopefully, will awaken more people to the true character of the Castro tyranny and the importance of standing in solidarity with the Cuban people, not their oppressors.