The Regime’s Two Obsessions: Preventing Protests on November 15 and Saving the Biennial

Rogelio Polanco Fuentes, secretary of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee, appeared on the TV news program Mesa Redonda (Roundtable) to condemn calls for anti-government demonstrations on November 15. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, October 26, 2021 — Just nineteen days remain until November 15, when national protest rallies are scheduled to take place. Not a day goes by that the issue does not attract attention, both from organizers and supporters of the Civic March for Change and from the regime, which has made it clear that it will spare no effort to prevent a repeat of the July 11 demonstrations.

Unlike their strategy of years gone by of ignoring and marginalizing the opposition, officials seem to have realized that, having lost their monopoly on information with the advent of an independent press and social media, the best approach is to talk a lot. Their goal is to discourage Cubans who oppose the government because of the problems it has created and cannot solve, but who have not yet decided whether or not to take take part in street protests.

The latest salvo came on Tuesday from Rogelio Polanco Fuentes, secretary of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee, who appeard on the television program Mesa Redonda (Roundtable). His statements contained nothing new but were entirely devoted to planned protest rallies on November 15.

Defending the decision not to allow lawful public demonstrations, Polanco stated, “We are not going to legitimize imperialist interference in our internal affairs or unleash growing desires for a neo-colonialist revival that some have been calling for and that would worsen the crisis situation. This is not an act of civic engagement. It is an act of subordination to Yankee hegemony.”

Polanco discussed demonstration permit applications submitted by Archipiélago, the group calling for the protest, claming their actions amounted a coordinated strategy. As evidence, he cited the applications’ wordings, which were nearly identical regardless of the province in which they were filed.

The organization convening the rallies is made up of groups from across the island, so it is not surprising that their actions would be coordinated. Likewise, Polanco was surprised the United States had expressed support for the protest immediately after Archipiélago’s announcement, as though Washington needed a day of reflection to express a policy of support for the Cuban opposition, a policy it has maintained for more than sixty years.

“In response to the challenge posed by protest promoters and their attempt to provocatively ignore officials’ refusals to grant them permits, on October 21 provincial headquarters of the Office of the Attorney General began issuing warnings to these citizens, notifying them that, if they failed to comply with these decisions, they would be subject to criminal charges of disobedience, unlawful demonstration, criminal incitement and other offenses proscribed by and subject to penalty under current criminal legislation,” he said. He justified these warnings by noting that even citizens who have not committed a crime can be summoned to appear before judicial bodies.

Polanca later resorted the usual rhetoric, describing the November 15 marches as a “soft coup,” claiming such actions are lifted from the “playbook of non-violent struggle” which led to the so-called Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe at the end of 20th century and the Arab Spring of 2011. He also lumped them with the anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela from 2014 to 2017.

When it came time to talk about financing, Polanco followed the same script, citing the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Center for Opening and Development in Latin America (CADAL), which he claimed had spent $200,000 on Cuba.

As the newspaper Escambray did two weeks ago, Polanco tried to link these organizations to Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Yunior García Aguilera who, it noted for the umpteenth time in recent weeks, attended a seminar organized by CADAL at a private university in Madrid. “The subversive, conspiratorial and seditious nature of these gatherings is clear. You’d have to be delusional to think you can tarnish the dignity of our invincible Revolutionary Armed Forces,” he said.

There was no shortage of references to Cuban exile organizations in Miami, which the regime has labelled as terrorist for decades. Among those mentioned were the Cuban Democratic Directorate, led by Orlando Gutierrez Boronat, the Cuban-American National Foundation and media outlets such as ADN Digital, Radio Martí Noticias and Cubanet, all described as having receiving millions of dollars to promote subversion.

Other individuals the article singled out were Ramon Saul Sanchez, whose name regularly appears in such lists, as well as Saily Gonzalez Velazquez, an activist and cafe owner who has had to shut down due to harassment by authorities. Gonzalez closed her business, Café Amarillo B&B, saying she would not reopen until “the rights to think and speak are respected in Cuba.” The article accused Gonzalez of inciting violence and accepting support from the National Cuban-American Foundation.

“The real organizer and promoter of November’s provocation is the U.S. government, as facts and statements show,” said Polanco. He stated that the march is doomed to failure and that no one will be able to stop the “explosion of pent-up happiness, joy and hugs” on November 15, when borders, tourism and schools are scheduled to reopen.

Hours after Polanco’s spiel, the government released a letter singed by a long list of foreign artists in support the Havana Biennial.

“The intended boycott has a blatantly imperialistic and destabilizing tint, hostile towards Cuba and the Biennial,” it reads. “No one in Cuba is imprisoned for his or her political beliefs or ideas, including artists. There are people, accomplices to Washington’s subversive plans, who have been imprisoned for their attacks on a constitutional order endorsed by more than 85% of the voters in 2019.”

Among the letter’s signatories are Elena Poniatowska (winner of the 2013 Cervantes Prize), Paco Ignacio Taibo II (director of the Economic Culture Fund) and Laura Esquivel (author best known for the novel “Like Water for Chocolate, on which an acclaimed film of the same name was based). All three are Mexican and supporters of the government of Manuel Lopez Obrador. The letter was written in response to a campaign launched by Cuban dissident artist Tania Bruguera and others urging artists not to attend this year’s Havana Biennial.

As for Bruguera’s initiative, as she herself reported this Wednesday on social networks, she continues to gain support*. The most recent to join it were the artists Cildo Meireles, from Brazil, the Serbian Marina Abramovic, dedicated to performance art, and the Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. “In the last hours they have joined their voices with just force and have said no to the Havana Biennial by signing the letter of support for the boycott,” said Bruguera. She also announced that the Brazilian photographer Rosângela Rennó, a participant in other editions and invited to this edition, announced he will not participate.

*Translator’s note: As of the posting of this translation, the initiative has 605 signatories.


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