One year after Cuba’s historic protests, the government’s grip has tightened

One year after Cuba’s historic protests, the government’s grip has tightened

The episode could remain a Cuban urban legend, whispering about a moment of rare public dissent on a communist-driven island if not a recent upgrade to the island’s mobile internet.

But that summer, Cubans across the country were able to live-stream and watch the protests unveiled in San Antonio de los Banos – and joined them. Almost immediately across the island, thousands of other Cubans took to the streets, some complaining about a lack of food and medicine, others condemning high-ranking officials and calling for greater civil liberties.

Unprecedented protests spread even to small towns and cities where there are more horses and cars on potholed roads than automobiles.

Marta and Jorge Pardomo stand in front of a sign at their home in San Jose de las Lazas, Cuba, on June 28, 2022.

In the city of San Jose de las Lazas, Martha Perdomo said her two sons, Nadir and George, both teachers, joined the protest as news of the unrest spread elsewhere in the country.

“My boys went out because like every Cuban they were desperate for the situation,” Marta Perdomo told CNN. “They are fathers. We have less here every day. There was no medicine. It was a very sad moment with the epidemic. Children were dying and so were the elderly.”

Food and medicine shortages – already a regular occurrence in Cuba – have become increasingly alarming, sparking outrage for Cubans. After years of government neglect, cracker power grids were crumbling even more. Although Cuban officials have long blamed U.S. sanctions for the island’s plight, on July 11 protesters expressed outrage at their own government for the deteriorating living conditions.

The video taken by Martin’s son Nadir that day shows crowds of anti-government protesters marching peacefully in the streets, with the protesters themselves seemingly shocked by what is happening.

“It’s authentic! It’s spontaneous!” Nadir says excitedly in the video.

According to Perdome, protesters in San Jose de las Lazas did not remove government-run stores by selling items in hard currency or flipping over police cars, as in other cities.

As more Cubans take to the streets, it has become clear that the Cuban government is facing the biggest internal challenge in decades to retain its power.

In a speech on state-run TV, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel blamed the U.S. government’s sanctions for the island’s economic problems, saying the protests were the result of a foreign-led insurgency campaign, and called on loyalists to return to the streets from the protesters. .

“We urge all revolutionaries in the country, all communists, to go to the streets, to all places where they can replicate these provocations,” he said. War has been ordered.

Cuban opposition activists face trial

Along with the police, supporters carrying the bats started to break the protests. Hundreds of Cubans were arrested; Some to clash with officials, others just to portray unrest with their phones.

After protests in San Jose de Lazarus were interrupted by government supporters and police, Nadir and Jorge Perdomo returned to their home and filmed a video on their phone that they were able to post online despite government efforts to cut off Internet access to the island.

“No one paid us,” Nadir said in the video, refuting the government’s claim that the protest had been conspired.

“We’re responding exactly the way everyone did.”

Both brothers were arrested a few days later and charged with alleged crimes, including disorderly conduct, assault and insulting the public. Their mother Martha says the allegations against her sons are fabricated and they are being punished for speaking out peacefully against the government.

Cuban officials say many of the protesters arrested are criminals and “counter-revolutionaries.” But in their court records, prosecutors noted that neither Nader nor George had a criminal record and both were “well respected” in their community. In February, Nadir was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison, and George to eight years in prison.

To date, Cuban prosecutors say they have convicted and convicted nearly 500 people in connection with the largest mass trial on the island in decades.

To prevent future protests

But international human rights groups say the Cuban government is using the prosecution to intimidate Cubans into daring to protest again.

“We have seen prosecutors continue to accuse Cubans of violating their fundamental rights, such as the right to peacefully protest, their right to insult the president or the right to insult police officers,” said Juan Papier, a human rights watchdog. HRW) ‘s senior American researcher.

On Monday, HRW released a report on the protests stating that 155 cases of alleged abuse were registered against those involved in last year’s protests, “in some cases including harassment, arbitrary detention, abuse trials, beatings and other misconduct.”

The group also accused the Cuban government of cracking down on civil liberties in order to prevent further protests.

Marta Perdomo says she first faced harsh sanctions after being invited to Europe in June to speak to human rights groups and lawmakers about her sons. When he arrived at Havana’s airport, officials there told him and the mother of one of the detained protesters that they would not be allowed to travel.

“They said I was‘ controlled ’and couldn’t go,” Perdomo said.

Cuban officials did not respond to a CNN request as to why Martha Pardomo was not allowed to leave the island.

Although Perdomo says he is worried that his three grandchildren will see their father again, he has no regrets.

“They didn’t have to go out but they felt the pain of Cuba,” Purdomo said. “That’s why they went out. My boys were free that day.”

It remains to be seen whether the July protests will be remembered as a rare outburst of public outrage or a new phase in the struggle for greater openness.

The United States has lifted the Cuba flight ban imposed under Trump
As epidemics, U.S. sanctions and the slow pace of reforms are hampering the Cuban economy, island officials have realized that despite the crackdown on their tough hands last year, there could be more protests at any time.

In June of this year, hundreds of Cuban students at a university in the city of Camague began a night of protests after a power outage in their dormitory.

“These blackouts! Turn on the electricity!” Students were seen in videos uploaded on social media chanting slogans while hitting the pot.

Cuban officials quickly brought the lights back on.

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