After July 11, What Has Changed in Cuba? Part II

After July 11, What Has Changed in Cuba? Part II

Editor’s note: This article is part of Conciencia Caribeña (Caribbean consciousness), a new section of 9 Millones where we provide in-depth analyses on topics relating to other countries in the Caribbean. We’re creating this to get to know and connect with our neighboring islands because we see them as part of our history. Also, we face similar challenges and could find solutions together. 

By: Yery M. García and Jessica Dominguez Delgado (elTOQUE)

A month and a half after the July 11 protests in Cuba, their main outcome is clear: the inefficient government management in solving problems of people’s everyday life has had political costs within Cuba and internationally. If you haven’t read the causes that cubans took the streets, make sure to read the first part of this series.

Governmental legitimacy in tension and new regulations

For the Cuban government, the narrative surrounding the July 11 protests and the responses to the crisis changes with time. The official discourse changed from a call to direct confrontation to “softening” the magnitude of the social outburst. However, it denies the violence, detainees, and trials held without procedural guarantees that have occurred since the uprising, and has changed the pronouncements to advocate for understanding, which in practice, is not accomplished.

The day of the protests, the president called on pro-government Cubans to take to the streets and confront the protestors. Based on this order, common citizens, as well as law enforcement, attempted to contain the protesters and used excessive force. Videos from that day confirm injuries, arrests, and even gunshots.

It’s important to highlight that attempting to prevent people from recording on their mobile devices was one of their main objectives.

Mobile data services reported lapses in the Internet beginning July 11 and the days that followed. The global internet monitoring company, NetBlocks, confirmed that for more than 48 hours, platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and some Telegram servers were interrupted by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA). Furthermore, the company responsible for creating the VPN Psiphon stated on its Twitter that on July 15 alone, 1.389 million Cubans accessed the web using their VPN. This is significant because at the beginning of 2021, there were 7.7 million internet users in Cuba.

In the morning of the twelfth, relatives of the detained protestors began to decry an absence of information about the detainees’ whereabouts. In the days thereafter, several cases came to light in which detainees could only contact their families on the day of their judicial process.

Cuban prosecutors, in a press conference on July 24, denied that violations of due process occurred in the country. Although they recognized that there are minors under investigation who, if convicted, will receive sanctions with “differential treatment.” “They are processed through more expedited and streamlined procedures, but that does not mean they are exempt from the guarantee of due process, including the right to defense,” said the president of the People’s Supreme Court of Cuba, Rubén Remigio Ferro, about the summary proceedings.

The case of Cuban visual artist and photographer Anyelo Troya González, who directed and recorded the music video “Patria y Vida”, became popular on social media. Troya had a summary trial without the presence of a lawyer. After recording a video that went viral, seventeen-year-old Gabriela Zequeira Hernández was condemned to eight months of confinement. Gabriela was sentenced on July 22 for public disorder, and only then could she speak to her mother for a few minutes for the first time since she was arrested.  The teen’s mother said to BBC Mundo that, alongside her daughter, another young person around the same age was condemned the same day, without the presence of a lawyer, to a year in prison for recording the protests. 

Gabriela and Anyelo were released after the trial, but this does not mean they were set free. Both will have to wait for the final decision of their appeals with restricted political rights restricted and limited movement. This modified sanction seems to be an attempt at improving the public image of the Cuban justice system regarding a “more visible” group of detainees, but these have not been the only cases.

To date, there is no public information about the number of people detained or the judicial proceedings completed. The grievances within and outside the country continue. Various citizen initiatives have been formed to provide support to those detained. The NGO Cubalex, together with a group of volunteers, created a collaborative list that registers the detainees whose whereabouts are unknown to their families. Other organizations that have done reports on detained persons include the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, Cuba Decide, and Prisoners Defenders. This last organization also presented a complaint on July 14 before the United Nations’ Committee on Enforced Disappearance.

The persecution and punishments following the protests have not been limited to the courts.  Many people have received administrative sanctions, been fired, or forced to recant their public dissent of the Cuban government or any specific measure taken by them.

After the protests, the efforts of Cubans are centered on finding alternatives to alleviate the medication crisis and hospital collapse due to the advance of COVID-19 in some provinces of the country. More than 40 citizen initiatives collecting donations within Cuba can be counted on social media, but this is not enough to cover necessities.

On July 14, three days after the protests, the Cuban authorities announced the “exceptional” suspension of the limitation of food, toiletry, and medication imports as accompanied baggage from July 19 to December 31. However, the entry of international flights to Cuba continues to be very limited. 

Since the month of July, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) confirmed that it authorized two airlines to transport food, medications, toiletries, and sanitation supplies from the U.S. to eight airports in Havana and further inland.  This executive order is presented as an exception to the measure of former president Donald Trump to prevent the entry of charter flights from Havana’s airport. According to the DOT, this measure was taken as a response to the protests of thousands of Cubans on July 11. At the moment this article is written, the Cuban government has not issued these airlines permission to land.

International support was swiftt. Cubans residing in other cities from Madrid to Santiago de Chile also took to the streets on July 11 and the days following. Embassies and heads of states of countries in South America, Europe, and North America condemned the repression of protests and called for respecting human rights. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, joined the calls on July 16.

On July 22, the United States placed financial/symbolic sanctions on the minister of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, Álvaro López Miera, and the National Special Brigade of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior (MININT). Both were included on a list of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), prohibiting them from accessing the U.S. financial system. The measure invokes the Global Magnitsky Act which permits the U.S. to punish those in other countries who have committed human rights abuses or acts of corruption. On July 12, the president of the United States, by way of a communication from the White House, declared that he supported the people of Cuba in their call for freedom. On July 25, more than twenty countries asked the Cuban government to respect the legally guaranteed rights and liberties of the Cuban people in a joint statement. 

The Cuban government has reacted to this by blaming the U.S. administration for their “campaigns against” the island. The opposition to the North American embargo on Cuba is also widely backed internationally. The New York Times published a letter addressed to the president of the United States signed by more than four hundred former presidents and political leaders, intellectuals, clergy members, artists, public figures, and activists from around the world demanding the end of the embargo.

In recent days, a legislative package, including the Decree-Law 35 and Resolution 105/2021 of the ministry of communications was published in Gaceta Oficial No. 92, establishing administrative violations and sanctions to regulate the use of the Internet. The violations are behaviors prohibited by the State that are not considered in the category of crimes; the sanctions that citizens may suffer for them do not exceed fines and asset forfeitures. Still, these measures do dangerously legitimize some behaviors and actions that the government developed aside from their own law.

This decree and its associated measures can be understood as a symbol of the government’s disposition to repress in any space—especially in the virtual realm where its control has been undermined—and of any form of dissident expression by citizens.

Today the streets of Cuba are peaceful, but the discontent continues. The government has opted to repress, rather than attend to the demands of Cuban residents. In spite of the arrests and restrictions, people continue using social media to share their stories and around the world there is more awareness of the concerns of a nation.

This story is in collaboration with independent Cuban outlet elTOQUE, a multimedia independent platform focused on Cuban storytelling that is diverse, complex, creative, sometimes painful and hidden. 

Yery M. García is a journalist and communications consultant. She has a bachelors in Journalism from the University of Habana and a Masters in Arts, Media Practice for Development and Social Change from Sussex University (UK). She is the Audience and Insights Editor of ‘elTOQUE’. 

Jessica Dominguez Delgado is editor of ‘elTOQUE’, journalist and educator. Her specialty is data journalism, interactive visualizations, and investigative journalism. Her areas of interest are politics and citizen participation. She has collaborated with outlets such as ‘Progreso Semanal’, ‘Periodismo de Barrio’, ‘Postdata’, ‘Distintas Latitudes’ and ‘Connectas’. 

Yates Gibson translated this story to English.

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