14ymedio, Havana, 12 July 12, 2021 — Injuries, threats and arbitrary arrests were the culmination of massive and unprecedented protests that took place across Cuba on Sunday, a story that made the front pages of the world’s newspapers today.
Among those arrested or attacked was Associated Press photographer Ramon Espinosa, an action that was condemned by Amnesty International on Sunday.
“It’s 9:30 to 11:30 and protests in Cuba are continuing,” wrote Erika Guevara Rosas, Amnesty’s Mexico-based director for the Americas on Twitter. “There have been reports of several people being injured by police gunfire, arbitrary arrests, threats, attacks on journalists, including an AP photographer, a strong military presence on the streets and an intolerant government.”
Several images posted on social media show Espinosa injured in the face.
In a previous message Guevara Rosas said, “In an unprecedent move thousands of people went out to peacefully protest at several locations in Cuba,” adding that President Diaz-Canel “is blaming imperialist mercenaries and sell-outs, calling upon supporters to violently oppose them.”
She added that, with these actions, the Cuban president “makes it clear that his government is a human rights violator and a oppressor.”
Other organizations, governments and world leaders also condemned Diaz-Canel’s speech on state televsion in which he called on government sympathizers to attack peaceful protesters.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denounced the use of force and aggression by the country’s security forces and demanded that the Cuban government respect the right to protest and allow democratic expression in the country.
In several Twitter posts the IACHR expressed disappointment over “stigmatizing reactions by high-level officials against people who demonstrate.”
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, was forceful in expressing his condemnation of Cuba’s “dictatorial regime” for “calling on civilians to repress” and for promoting confrontation against those leading the protests against the government. “The order has been given. Revolutionaries, take to the streets,” the Cuban president exhorted in his address.
“We recognize the legitimate claim by Cuban society for medicine, food and fundamental freedoms. We condemn Cuba’s dictatorial regime for calling on civilians to repress and confront those who exercise their right to protest,” Almagro tweeted.
The U.S. response was measured. In a message on Twitter Julie Chung, acting undersecretary of state at the Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs,” wrote, “We are deeply concerned about ’calls to combat’ in Cuba,” underscoring the American administration’s support for the right of Cubans to demonstrate peacefully.
Chung also called for calm and condemned violence.
Shortly afterwards, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan emphasized that “the United States supports freedom of expression and assembly in Cuba” as “universal rights.”
Asked about the situation in Cuba when he arrived at the White House tonight after spending the weekend at his residence in Wilmington, Delaware, President Joe Biden avoided journalists’ questions.
At a press conference in Miami’s City Hall, Mayor Francis Suarez said that “the eyes of the world are on Cuba,” adding that the Cuban regime will show its “true face” if it represses the peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets to demand “freedom” and to shout “down with the dictatorship.”
As the press conference was taking place, the Versailles restaurant — a gathering place for the Cuban community in Miami during important events in Cuba — was filled with supporters of the those who were protesting in various cities and towns on the island.
Traffic on Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana had to be blocked off due to the number of people gathered there.
Exile community leaders from the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance stressed that the departure of the Castro regime “is not negotiable.” They asked the Cuban people not to return to their homes tonight, to remain in the streets, arguing that this is the only way to achieve their aims.
Protesters chanted,”It’s over,” a phrase from the chorus of “Patria y Vida,” an anti-communist anthem, along with “They are not alone.”
They demanded that the police and the military stand on the “right side,” referring to the people clamoring for freedom. They added that the future of Cuba lies in the hands of the armed forces and how they act in the face of the popular uprising.
Former Miami mayor Joe Carollo went further, demanding that the Biden administration invoke the Monroe doctrine to prevent interventions by other countries in support of the Cuban regime.
A Republican congresswoman from Florida, Maria Elvira Salazar, compared the demonstrations on Sunday with the so-called Maleconazo uprising on August 5, 1994 and believed that this could be “the beginning of the end” of the communist regime, which has been in power since 1959.
In her opinion, Cuba is experiencing a “perfect storm” after 62 years of dictatorship and the worsening of a bad economic situation due to the covid-19 pandemic.
Carollo also said that freedom in Cuba could also lead to freedom in Nicaragua and Venezuela, referring to the Cuban regime as “the serpent’s head” of Latin America.
In Venezuela, Juan Guaido also expressed support for the demonstrations. “We reiterate our support for the entire pro-democracy movement in Cuba,” he tweeted this Sunday. “We are united in the struggle to see ourselves free and democratic.”
In the same social media post, he wrote, “The desire for change, freedom and the demand for fundamental rights are unstoppable forces,” adding at the end one of the protesters’ slogans: “Homeland and Life!”
The European Union, which did not issue a statement on Sunday, scheduled a foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday to discuss matter. “We know that important demonstrations are taking place in Cuba and other parts of the world as a result of cuts in communication systems. We will undoubtedly comment on this issue,” said the representative for EU foreign policy, Josep Borrell, in statements to the press upon his arrival in Brussels for face-to-face meetings.
In a tweet one day earlier, EU deputy Jose Ramon Bauza lashed out against Brussels’ common policy towards the island. “People in Cuba have taken to the streets against the regime. Cubans have had enough and the European Union bears direct responsibility for the extreme situation to which the Diaz-Canel dictatorship has led them,” he wrote. He noted that the EU’s 2016 agreement on political dialogue and cooperation with Cuba “is an economic lifeline, but above all a political one for the regime, despite the fact that Havana systematically violates its human rights clause.”
Politicians and international media outlets have compared Sunday’s protests to the so-called Maleconazo uprising in Havana on August 5, 1994. Though there have not been other such outbreaks on the island since then, the number of people demonstrating on Sunday appears to be unprecedented.
This time protests are not limited to the capital. They have broken out in several places, large and small: San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province, Santiago de Cuba, San Jose de las Lajas in Mayabeque province, and Cienfuegos and Cardenas in Matanzas province, the current epicenter of Covid outbreaks on the island.
Another difference from the protests of twenty-seven years ago, whose goals were very poorly articulated, is the use of the slogans. Sunday’s demonstrations resounded with shouts of “Down with Díaz-Canel,” “Libertad” and “Patria y Vida.”
Technology that did not exist in 1994 played a key role on Sunday in spite of internet services being disrupted throughout the country. Videos shared on social media were not only a source of information, they also served as an incentive, having generated enormous public sympathy from the beginning.
The number of citizens participating in the protests far exceeds anything seen in more than 60 years. The protests do not appear to have been organized by the opposition but rather seem to be driven by frustration over shortages, homelessness and hopelessness exacerbated by the the latest wave of the pandemic.
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