Police in Santiago de Cuba Confiscate Cell Phones to Identify Protestors in Videos

Black Berets patrolling Santiago de Cuba after demonstrations on Sunday, July 11. (Captura)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Santiago de Cuba, July 15, 2021 — Police arrests continue days after the start of protests in more than forty cities throughout the island. On Wednesday a 20-year-old youth was apprehended on Corona Street in Santiago de Cuba, near the starting point of Sunday’s demonstrations, and charged with “filming.” The area was cordoned off and heavily guarded by military personnel.

Security agents are confiscating cell phones and carefully reviewing videos in an effort to identify and arrest demonstrators. “At a minimum, they fine you 2,000 pesos for watching,” says one witness. “If they see you yelling ’Patria y Vida’ [Homeland and Life], they take you prisoner.”

“People woke up to find Santiago overcast. Overcast with police,” notes Andrés ironically from his balcony. Forces from the Ministry of the Interior made a show of force with a caravan of police on motorcycles, jeeps carrying soldiers in black berets with AKM rifles, and trucks full of armed guards, sirens blaring.

“They’re parading heavily armed special forces around town to intimidate us. But they forget our slogan is ’We are not afraid,’” says Andrés. The din of the caravan could be easily heard throughout almost all of Santiago as it traveled along the city’s avenues and major thoroughfares.

No sooner had demonstrations ended on Sunday than citywide arrests began, though the exact number of arrests is not yet known. “They took my son. I don’t even have the comfort of knowing where they took him. I’m told he’s probably at the detention center in Versalles” says Iliana, a mother concerned about her 21-year-old son, who was arrested on Monday.

That same day Antonio was also arrested, as his fiancée explains: “”It wasn’t even six in the morning when they raided my house and took my fiancé, They treated him as they pleased, dragging him out in little more than his underwear. Four policemen carried him out: two by the arms and two by the feet. It was hard to watch.”

Though the major demonstrations took place on Sunday, the city was still buzzing several days later. “No communist official has come to talk to me. I haven’t had lunch for three days and I’m ready,” a young protest participant, Pipo, says indignantly. “Down with Díaz-Canel!”

After President Miguel Diaz-Canel urged Cubans to “defend the revolution,” a communist march was announced, though it never took place. “They told me at work that we would be meeting at 2:00 PM on July 13 to take part in a combat march,” says Marta. “Thank God they ultimately called it off because there is no way I would have gone. First of all my husband didn’t want me to go and I agreed. We can’t keep supporting the lie. We’re tired of it.”

Government buildings and hard-currency stores remain heavily guarded by special forces troops, with the presence of at least one high-ranking official among them.

According to some residents, people were asked to bring soup pots and ladles to another demonstration if there were blackouts. There have been no disruptions in electrical service, however, and the demonstration has yet to take place.

“I’m waiting for the electricity to go out so I can join the saucepan march,” says a determined Maria Victoria, referring to the banging of pots and pans as a form of protest.

City residents lost internet service, along with the rest of the country, on Sunday, July 11, during the height of the demonstrations. The disruption affected not only mobile phones but Nauta Hogar and public telephones as well. Users could still connect through Wifi but access to social media sites, including Facebook, was blocked.

Juan describes his frustration at not being able to communicate: “I couldn’t even make local calls from pay phones. I tried calling from several different phone booths but always got the same response from the operator: the service you requested is not available.”

“They isolated us so we wouldn’t know what was happening but I found an app with an encrypted tunnel and was able to connect to Facebook,” says Miguel, a technology enthusiast.

Not everyone was affected by the disruption, however. Foreign residents did not lose their connections. “What do you mean there’s no internet?” asked Marcus, a surprised foreign student living in Cuba who has an Etecsa account and a 4G connection. He showed his phone to a 14ymedio reporter who was unable to get online at that moment. “See, I have it,” he said. His phone displayed images of demonstrators in Havana overturning a police car.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re protesting, to put an end to the communication monopoly,” says Mireya. “They can cut off the internet, electricity or water whenever they want and there’s no avenue for complaint.” Since Sunday she has not been able to speak to her daughter, who lives overseas and is eager fo find out how her mother is.

Though he did not say exactly how many people had been injured or detained, Diaz-Canel assured viewers on Wednesday’s Roundtable program that those arrested would enjoy “due process” and that “the law will applied in just and fair measure, without prejudice.”

The president stated that actions which took place during the demonstrations violated the constitution and justified the response by the police, though he admitted that “we also have to apologize to anyone who was treated unjustly in the confusion of the moment.”


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