A Flotilla from Miami on March 17, One of Many Rumors from Cuba

Between the 11J protests in 2021 and those of this March there are multiple points in common, as ’14ymedio’ and ‘Yucabyte’ confirmed

A group of protesters in Miami protesting on a boat after the July 11 protests

14ymedio/Yucabyte, Havana, 21 April 2024 — On March 17, the flood of rumors reached a fever pitch comparable to, though less intense, those of 11 July 2021 (which were quickly baptized ’11J’). Fed up with long blackouts and supply shortages, Cubans again took to the streets to protest the government’s management of the crisis. A few hours later, images of the demonstrations flooded social media.

The protests of 2021 and those of this March share several things in common, as 14ymedio and Yucabyte have found in their monthly audits. These include calls for the release of jailed protesters, anti-government graffiti and slogans, and the banging of pots and pans, which heralded the start of demonstrations. There were also rumors of a fleet of boats from Miami coming to the aid of the protesters as well as a counterattack by state media, which very quickly disseminated its version of events by all means possible.

Those who anticipated a harsh crackdown by the police were surprised to learn that repression was not widespread. Legal action against the protesters was taken later, after State Security – as it did after 11 July 2021 – analyzed video footage posted on social media. It quickly became apparent that the government would likely respond with more caution this time and would not issue a “combat order” like the one that an unsettled Miguel Díaz-Canel gave on 11 July 2021.

Those who anticipated a harsh crackdown by the police were surprised to learn that repression was not widespread

Though there were reports of plainclothes agents and truckloads of Black Wasp special forces circulating among the crowd, they never attacked the demonstrators, a fact that government television programs such as “Con Filo” and “Desde la Presidencia” — created ad hoc by Díaz-Canel to redirect the narrative about the demonstrations — boasted about.

Meanwhile, there were reports on social media, accompanied by unconvincing images, of monuments to Fidel Castro being burned in Cienfuegos and Mayabeque as well as of demonstrators allegedly throwing stones at movie theaters and state institutions. There were also photos of cardboard signs with slogans such as “Down with the dictatorship” in unidentified areas as well as trashcan fires in Havana.

Access to the internet, mobile phones and landlines were reported down in heavily militarized areas such as San Antonio de los Baños, the town where the 11 July protests originated. Several people posted on social media that there were more plainclothes police on the street than ordinary citizens.

Social media commenters in Bayamo reported telecommunication problems, slow connectivity and trucks ferrying brigades of special troops. Commenters in Camagüey province noted the presence of special police and State Security agents in parks and central locations in the city of Florida. Similarly, rumors were spreading that recruits in some military units from Mayabeque were being ordered to dress in civilian clothes in order to suppress protests.

Alongside the protests and closely related to them, speculation about other plots began cropping up on social media

Alongside the protests and closely related to them, speculation about other plots began to cropping up on social media. One of them was the purported killing of José Daniel Ferrer, an opposition figure currently imprisoned in Santiago de Cuba, one of the epicenters of the demonstrations. The rumor was fueled by similarities between Ferrer and Alexei Navalny, archenemy of Vladimir Putin’s regime, whose suspicious death in prison prompted comparisons with his Cuban counterpart.

Concern that Ferrer was at risk of becoming a Cuban Navalny was also the subject of statements and op-eds that circulated during the protests.

In what many saw as an imitation of Hugo Chávez’ long-running, unscripted TV talk show “Aló Presidente” (“Hello, Mr. President”), Díaz-Canel’s new program was a measure of just how concerned the government was not only about reality but also about the version being presented on social media. There was little doubt in the Cuban president’s mind about March 17. “These events were instigated by counterrevolutionary platforms and American politicians to generate a social upheaval on the island,” he said. In his view it was “virtual Cuba” that had gone through several days of protests, not “the real Cuba.”


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