July 11 marks the first anniversary of massive and iconic protests in Cuba. A year later, here are five things you need to know about what’s happened since and why we need to pay attention.
1. The protests were a desperate cry for change in the country.
On July 11, 2021, thousands of Cubans spontaneously took to the streets of dozens of cities to protest, numbers not seen in decades. People took part in the demonstrations to demand a change in living conditions in Cuba. The protests were in response not only to shortages of food, personal hygiene items and medicine, constant blackouts and lack of electricity, but also to restrictive measures taken by the government to “control” the transmission of Covid-19 , and historical state policy. of repression, which has violated freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for years.
2. Although the protests were peaceful, the authorities responded with repression and criminalization, to varying degrees, of almost anyone they encountered protesting.
During the protests and in the weeks that followed, the authorities arbitrarily detained hundreds of people without informing their families of their whereabouts, kept activists and independent journalists under extreme surveillance, and cut off Internet access from the population.
3. Cuban authorities suppressed the protests using proven control tactics.
One of the main tactics employed by the authorities to quell protests and silence those who think differently has been the use of arbitrary detentions. The situation of artist and human rights defender Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of six people named prisoner of conscience last year, is emblematic of how these tactics are employed, as he was arrested after announced that he would join the protests and, nearly a year later, was sentenced to five years in prison solely for exercising his right to free speech.
These tactics to silence government critics are not new, but rather reflect decades of repressive policies implemented by Cuban authorities. Besides arbitrary detentions, other tactics include shutting down internet service, due process violations, ill-treatment and unfair trials held behind closed doors. Cuban authorities also resort to constant intimidation and surveillance using security agents for these purposes, as we documented in November 2021, in the context of the November 27 protests. Their attempts to silence various voices go so far as to trade freedom for exile, as happened to Esteban Rodriguez and Hamlet Lavastida, whom Amnesty International has also named prisoners of conscience.
4. The Cuban government falsely claims that its actions are legitimate.
Despite the use of crimes incompatible with international law (such as “public disorder”, “contempt” and “incitement to commit a crime”) to criminalize those who protested, the Cuban authorities insist that the way in which they suppressed the protests was appropriate. President Miguel Díaz-Canel himself called on “defenders of the regime” to violently fight those who had joined the protests in the streets, because, according to the official version of the events, the protests undermined “the constitutional order and stability” of the socialist state. However, the facts speak for themselves: currently, at least 701 people are known to remain deprived of their liberty, simply for expressing their dissatisfaction with the situation in the country.
5. The international community continues to denounce the worrying absence of freedom of expression in Cuba.
However, despite the vigorous efforts of governments and international organizations, the Cuban government refuses to allow international and independent human rights organizations to enter the country to document the state of human rights, and particular the situation faced by persons arbitrarily detained.
While conditions inside Cuba have not improved a year after the protests, stories have emerged that illustrate the courageous resistance of hundreds of activists, journalists, relatives of wrongfully detained protesters and people from all walks of life who united their voices to continue to fight for their rights. The victims’ mothers have created viral videos calling on the authorities to act to resolve the deep economic crisis facing the country. Relatives stood firm in the face of arbitrary arrests, threats and fines. Journalists and activists have left their homes to continue their role of defending and protecting rights.
This anniversary of July 11 reminds us that freedom of expression and the exercise of human rights could be a reality in Cuba. We reiterate our invitation to President Díaz-Canel and his cabinet to change repression for dialogue and to promote plural and participatory spaces where the Cuban people can collectively make decisions about the future of their country, making protection human rights a priority.
While waiting for this future, Amnesty International will not stop defending those who raise their voices to build it.