Three months after the most significant protests —in number of participants and territorial extension— in the last sixty years, Cuba has several hundred citizens still in jail, plus several hundred more in house arrest, awaiting trial, or with limitations of movement. Thousands of families live in desperate anguish amidst fear, impotence and silence. Along with direct repression, there is the permanent harassment of activists, critical artists, dissidents, opponents, as well as their relatives and friends. The government is still cutting internet access selectively, trying to silence an increasingly plural and active virtual public sphere, which today leads the discussion on the national reality. The aim is clear: to silence and even expel any germ of critical citizenry, as well as to prevent its articulation.
During the last three months, the propaganda apparatus of the Cuban regime has maintained a permanent media campaign of disqualification, stigmatization and violence against the participants in the protests. As the South American national security dictatorships did in the past, the regimen questions the legitimacy of the exercise of the right to association, demonstration and expression. Protest is criminalized with the imposition of harsh sentences and the media broadcast them as a way to intimidate would-be protesters. The figures we have (more than 1000 people arrested and prosecuted) come from the anonymous and collaborative work of citizen networks. The government has not provided official figures on the detainees. Relatives and activists denounce changes in the classification of crimes and an ad hoc increase in sanctions.
The Government organizes tours for the leaders through poor, racialized and marginalized neighborhoods, where the largest protests took place. Staged events, accompanied by measures of social benefit such as repairing the streets and giving attention to long-postponed problems, where the sweaty and serious faces of the almost always elderly participants stand out. They have held meetings with loyal sectors: student groups, artists, diversity groups, women. In each case, they display the same theatrical staging: lack of spontaneity, rehearsed speeches, closed shots. Also the scenography is the same: the poorly disguised hierarchy between power and a petitioning citizenry, represented by the authorized organizations, the only ones with the right to exist. The theater dominates, the absence of demands, the acquiescence with power —disguised as the defense of the Revolution— and the condemnation of the blockade.
Outside of the official press and propaganda media, Cuban society is no longer the same. People has created and consolidated informal solidarity networks, groups and collectives to help victims, virtual spaces for debate and reflection. We see young people discovering politics, emigrants recovering their sense of citizenship. The urgency to talk about Cuba, to explain Cuba and the possibility of imagining a country have intoxicated a citizenry that lived, even if only for a couple of days, the massive experience of public freedom. The #Justice11J Movement —a group of young people that through social networks tries to give a name, a face and a story to political prisoners subjected to such precarious conditions of existence— accompanies relatives, denounces abuses and illegalities. It demands justice without legal personality, without the right to exist, with the deafening silence of international organizations, in the midst of questioning, attacks and invisibility.
A few weeks ago, a new civic action was announced: a march to demand an end to the violence and the release of political prisoners. The initiative is signed by a plural collective united around the group Archipiélago, coordinated by Yunior García, playwright and member of the artistic movement that has generated other actions in the last year. The call is based on rights recognized by the Constitution of 2019. The initiative was replicated in several locations throughout the island, the authorities were notified of the date, time, route and objective of the march.
The response of the Cuban regime is the same as always. Detention of activists, disqualification campaigns in the media, accusations of mercenarism and U.S. interference. In recent days, a series of military exercises were announced for the days leading up to and on the date set by the call for the march, November 20. Finally, the Government has refused to allow the march, considering it illegal and destabilizing.
The government denies the legality of the civic claim. It subordinates the exercise of the rights of its population to the dispute with the United States. It ignores any legitimacy to the demand for inclusion and exercise of political rights. It would seem that after sixty years of Revolution, Cubans continue to be mere puppets of foreign interests. They are given no credibility, no discernment capacity, no agency. No matter when, no matter how many, the discourse and praxis of Cuban authoritarianism denies the very possibility of dissent.
* This text was originally published in the Mexican newspaper Reforma.