14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 March 2021 — They arrived at dawn and in many cases they even seized the family photos. It was March 2003 and the news emerged in pieces as the police searches dragged on and neighbors began to speak out about the patrols, the uniformed men and the arrests. Those days would later be known as the Black Spring, a repressive wave that left deep wounds but also shaped the current face of dissidence on the Island.
Those were times when Cuban officialdom was emboldened. With a still active Fidel Castro at the helm and a constant inflow of petrodollars from Venezuela, the Cuban regime believed that it could touch the sky with its hands and control every cloud. Since the beginning of the century, it had launched one ‘offensive’ after another, in energy and the social sphere with the recruitment of thousands of young people who also dispensed gasoline at the service stations, distributed refrigerators or doled out blows in an act of repudiation. The economic reforms that the crisis of the Special Period forced had also been halted.
The war in Iraq was beginning and it seemed to Castro that international attention was going to be entirely focused on the conflict that was emerging in the Middle East. After all, he had gotten away with it on previous occasions when complicity, the fear of making Havana uncomfortable, or ideological sympathies silenced more than one arrest and convictions of dissidents or excesses in prisons. The repressive offensive of that March was a way of saying that the times of absolute control within the country were back even though the dreaded Soviet bear was no longer supporting it. The “top leader” wanted to send a strong message.
But the raids did not go as calculated by the autocrat. International rejection was unanimous. Even old allies of the Plaza of the Revolution, such as the Portuguese writer José Saramago, made it clear that patience and collusion had come to an end. “I have come this far. From now on, Cuba will continue on its way, I will stay,” declared the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature as a result of the arrests of 75 opponents and independent journalists, a phrase that was never published in the official media of the Island, which continued to speak of “unrestricted” support for the offensive “against the enemy.”
That year was the date of one of the most important ruptures around the globe of the illusions of those who continued to believe that a just and beautiful revolution had been installed in the Caribbean. Those who had any doubt that those bearded men who came down from the mountain ended up building a dictatorship in which dissent was synonymous with betrayal, found the spring of 2003 more powerful evidence than any other argument. It was not necessary to say much, it was enough to read the judicial records against the detainees where owning certain books, having a typewriter or receiving correspondence from abroad were all described as crimes.
But those arrests and subsequent convictions not only had a definitive influence on how the world viewed the Cuban system, but also on the subsequent dissident movement that was formed on the island. The rejection of the measures and the demand for the liberation of the 75 became a flag that united, like few previous causes, the Cuban opposition. The Ladies in White Movement played a defining role in that confluence and the new groups that were born in the heat of the demands were less partisan and more focused on human rights. The independent press multiplied. Castroism had planted the tree where hangs the rope of its own international loss of prestige and of the social discontent that today has it in check, surrounded by criticism and stripped of all greatness.
Eighteen years later, the Cuban regime has had time to acknowledge that that blow of intolerance only brought it problems. It created dozens of heroes, brought together wills and gave rise to the emergence of a much broader and more plural critical sector than the one that existed before that March 2003. Although the Gag Law — under which the Group of 75 was tried — is still in force, the arm of power is fragile, discredited and has hardly any allies. Now it would take tens or hundreds of early mornings like those of the March 2003 to shut down all the voices that oppose it.
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