Cuba: A Manual for a Successful Protest March

Police on alert at Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution on Thursday, November 12. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, Miami, November 19, 2021 — If I had written this article before November 15, people would have been called me a pessimist, a harbinger of bad luck, a saboteur of protest marches, and in a way they would have been right. I would never collaborate with the oppressors but, in general terms, I knew how this was going to turn out.

Members the online Archipelago group who called for the march were very brave, as were those who showed up to protest. But bravery alone does not win battles. You have to know when and how to retreat.

Some believe that the July 11 protests were unsuccessful because they did not immediately bring about the final victory over tyranny many were hoping for. They are, however, mistaken. The protests were, in fact, a great victory because they shook civil society — students, professionals, artists, clergymen, Masons, even many who had, until then, been staunch supporters of the status quo — out of its complacency.

With the ghost of Ceausescu haunting the halls of the Palace of the Revolution, the oppressors no longer dare to hold mass demonstrations, as they did in the past. When they did call for so-called “revolutionary reaffirmation” to deal with the protests, many of those who were summoned refused to show up. The glorious events of July 11 did represent a victory. However, no single battle wins a war.

News footage from November 15 showed the streets of the capital in a state of calm and the regime successfully managing to maintain control. This led some reporters, such as CNN’s Patrick Oppmann, to ask, “Why aren’t Cubans coming out to protest?” In contrast Euronews broadcast images not only of large-scale police deployments but of arrests of protestors shouting demands for freedom and democracy as well as arrests of well-known opposition figures such as Manuel Cuesta Morua, Guillermo Fariñas and Berta Soler.

To be fair, the qualified response I would give to Oppmann’s question would be the same as his: “This time the Cuban government had time to prepare.”

When my daughter called me from Ecuador several days earlier to ask what I thought would happen, I replied with a popular saying I had often heard in childhood: “Soldiers forewarned of an attack don’t get killed.” The events of July 11 were a social eruption that took not only the government but most of its opponents by surprise. There was no need for a nationwide call to protest. It started in just one town and quickly spread throughout the country thanks to social media.

Months before the July 11 protests, some Cuban exiles in Miami tried to convene something similar. I wrote in an article, “Social eruptions are not convened.” Nevertheless, it was clear to me that it would not take much to set one off. That is why, when the Cuban government alleged that the explosive protests were planned by the CIA and Cubans living in south Florida, I laughed.

But in the case of November 15, the fact that the results were not as hoped cannot be explained solely on the fact that the government had been forewarned. It was also because the planned protest was not well-timed. The wounds from last July’s repression had not yet healed and numerous protesters remained in prison.

This reminded me of the so-called Little War in the 19th century, which began very shortly after the Ten Years War. It took some time afterwards for Jose Marti, as head of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, to prepare for the final struggle that would lead to independence. The difference here, of course, is one of time. What took years to accomplish back then can now be achieved in a few days, thanks largely to technology.

July 11 also fell on a Sunday, a day when most workers and students were at home. The results are not the same on a weekday. Many find it inconvenient to leave work or school to join an anti-government demonstration, whether it is formally planned or not.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” says Ecclesiastes. The Cuban peasant was very patient and always knew exactly when his crops should be harvested, when the moon was perfect and, in the meantime, watered and cared for his plants. Our own fruit, to paraphrase Jose Marti, requires a natural and arduous gestation period. For now, it’s maturing.

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.