The 11th of July in Cuba, ’11J’, the ‘Combat Order’ Still Stands

Images of the repression unleashed in Havana on the 11th of July 2021. (14ymedio/Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 11 July 2023 — Dark shirt, mask and authoritative gesture. This is how Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel appeared before the television cameras on the 11th of July 2021, when the largest popular protests in the history of Cuba shook the streets of the Island. It was at that moment that he spoke the phrase that has defined the political and repressive strategy of these two years: “The combat order has been given.” And he added the no less disturbing threat: “We are ready for anything.”

From that moment until now, the Cuban regime has followed the repressive script to the letter. More than 700 of the protesters arrested in those demonstrations remain behind bars, political discourse has radicalized, and thousands of critical citizens have been driven into exile or silence. Terror has spread in national life and the regime has not ceded an inch in its control over society.

However, on the second anniversary of what has come to be known as ’11J’ there are many more reasons for public outrage. Inflation, massive impoverishment, the devaluation of the Cuban peso and the deterioration of public services, which have collapsed from medical care to the water supply, mean that the motivations for the protest have continued, and even munltiplied.

The regime has also made many enemies. Each family of a political prisoner is lost ground for indoctrination. Nobody knows more about the failure of the Cuban model than those mothers who, every month, must do the impossible to put together a bag with food to take their children to prison. Who can continue to believe in the system after being visited and threatened by a State Security agent?

At what point will anger be stronger than fear, and will misery push beyond the limits imposed by repression. It is very difficult to know. One day before that 11J no one could have predicted that hours later Cubans, indoctrinated for decades and civically handcuffed, would ignore their fears and star in images for the hostory books: overturned police cars, raised fists, lips pronouncing the forbidden word: “libertad,” freedom.

Two years later, no amnesty been granted to those arrested in those protests, nor has the regime implemented significant measures to open the way for criticism and dissent in public spaces. Contrary to an opening, it has closed ranks and tightened the ideological screw. Extremism has spread, the last masks to show a democratic spirit have fallen and there is not a drop of modesty left to pretend to govern with popular support.

The pardon for the more than one thousand political prisoners hs not arrived, nor have steps begun to be taken in the direction of a democratic change. Instead, Havana has turned to Vladimir Putin’s Russia in search of economic support, supporting the invasion of Ukraine and posing for family photos with the most unpresentable and authoritarian regimes on the planet.

Those demonstrations did not bring freedom to Cuba but they changed it forever. Few doubt that there is a dictatorship on the island. The fracture between the regime and society deepened considerably and Cubans learned some lessons they will apply in the future. How long will it take to put into practice the teachings of that Sunday two years ago? No one dares to set a date for the next protest. Nobody could have put a date on the 11th of July 2021.


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