14ymedio, Havana, March 5, 2021 — More repression, more prisoners of conscience and more protests in Havana in February. That sums up the results of data collected last month by various human rights organizations such as the Cuban Conflict Observatory (OCC), which counted 159 public demonstrations in that time period. Not only is the figure higher than the 137 recorded in January but, unlike those that took place before the middle of last year, 70% of them were related to political and civil rights issues.
In a statement released this week, the OCC expressed surprise that only 30% of the demonstrations focused on economic or social rights “considering [the severity of] the socio-economic crisis plaguing the country.” In the organization’s view, these protests were, in large part, a response to increases in the cost of living resulting from the country’s recent currency unification.
According to the OCC, the main cause of the increased number of protests in February was “the stubborn suppression of them by a regime that has lost all credibility with an increasingly critical and diverse civil society.”
Behind the protests is a growing array of key players, says the Miami-based organization. Artists, independent journalists, animal rights activists, self-employed workers, filmmakers and private farmers are being joined by workers from other sectors who have been, “until now, mostly passive.” These include lawyers, architects, doctors, teachers, scientists and accountants, all part of a list of 124 professions whose members are prohibited from being independently employed.
The OCC believes that, given the increasing number and diverse nature of the protests, there is a growing awareness “both inside and outside of Cuba” that “the state no longer assumes any responsibility for the general welfare [of its citizens] or has any respect for basic civil rights.”
By way of example, the statement mentions several former military officers, quoting them as saying “there is no revolution or socialism to defend.” It also mentions the song “Patria y Vida” — released on February 16 by the musical group Gente de Zona, whose members incude Yotuel Romero, Descemer Well, El Funky and Maykel Castillo Osorbo — which quickly went viral.* According to the OCC, the six musicians managed to express “the feelings of ordinary people on the island.” The song’s lyrics state, “And we are not afraid, the deception is over, it is over, there are sixty-two [years of] damage.”
The OCC claims the government “is unable to muster popular support” and “insists on resorting to counterproductive acts of repression and smear campaigns without allowing its critics the right to reply.”
In its February report by the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) provides an accounting of the repression: at least 373 actions against human rights activists and independent journalists, of which 120 were arbitrary detentions, sixteen of them involving violent use of force.
State Security’s preferred strategy is to besiege people in their homes, which it did recently to ninety-eight activists. It also routinely relies on threats, harassment, fines, physical attacks, searches, subpoenas and acts of repudiation.
The Madrid-based OCDH stated that “permanent violence continues against the opposition leader Jose Daniel Ferrer, who was the victim of several incidents” including a raid on his house by State Security agents on Friday, February 26.
The organization also condemned an act of repudiation against the family of Anyell Valdes Cruz at her home in Havana, whose facade was painted with the slogan “Patria y Vida”. The participants, who included Kirenia Pomares, the mayor of the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, attacked the house, throwing objects at it in the presence of several minors.
Cuban Prisoners Defenders, which is also based in Madrid, has come up with its own list of prisoners of conscience based on data from February, raising the number of cases to nine. They include Luis Enrique Santos Caballero (a nember of the Opposition Movement for a New Republic and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance Front), and Yasser Fernando Rodriguez Gonzalez (who has no political affiliation).
The organiztion counted 135 political prisoners, both accused and convicted, as of March 1. When it began compiling these reports one year earlier, there were 127 prisoners on its initial list. Sine then, 53 new cases were been added (an average of 4.4 new cases per month), for a total of 180. Of those, 45 have already been released, the vast majority being prisoners who had completed their sentences. The rest were released due to special or extenuating circumstances.
The situation in February is also the topic of a report by the Cuban Center for Human Rights, which is based in Havana and headed by Martha Beatriz Roque**. Among other things, it notes the presence of local and foreign-based artists at an online event sponsored by the European Parliament which denounced prohibitions against free expression and violations of human rights violations by the regime.
The report’s assessment of the economic situation is blunt. “Currency unification has not had, nor will it have, a positive effect on employment. The country’s economic system has adversely impacted the labor market and limited any positive outcomes it might have had for the population. As a result, neither the elimination of subsidies nor the increase in wages is likely to bring workers back into the state labor market,” says Roque.
*The words, which translate as “Fatherland and Life,” is a play on the well-known Cuban communist slogan “Patria o Muerte” (Fatherland or Death). Also please note, if you are searching for more information on this topic, also search on “Homeland and Life” — the translation of ’Patria’ varies among sources.
** Martha Beatriz Roque is also commonly spelled Marta Beatriz Roque, on this site and elsewhere.
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.