A Cuban national policeman. (Photo by Ricardo Rubio / Europa Press via Getty Images)
- Protest organizers are seeking regime change with US support.
- Appeals to participate in the demonstration in Havana and in six provinces were spread on social media.
- In the month of July, one person was killed, dozens more injured and 1 270 arrested during the demonstrations.
Cuban police took to the streets of Havana in large numbers on Monday before a demonstration that the opposition promised to hold despite being banned by the one-party state.
Along the city’s waterfront, uniformed armed police gathered at almost every corner, while others in civilian clothes patrolled the city’s squares and parks.
The Cuban opposition said the “15N” rally (November 15) would go on despite the official ban and the risk of prosecution with hundreds of people still in prison after previous protests suppressed by the military.
The government says protest organizers are seeking regime change with the backing of the United States, which maintains sanctions against the Communist island.
Calls to participate in the demonstration in Havana and six provinces have been spread on social media as organizers seek to highlight the detention of hundreds of people jailed after the July demonstrations in a country where public discontent is rare and risky.
Spontaneous demonstrations in July, fueled by growing anger over economic hardship and growing demands for “freedom”, left one person dead, dozens injured and 1,270 arrested as authorities cracked down.
More than 650 are still in prison, according to the Cubalex rights group.
Under the banner of a group called Archipelago, protesters were called to take to the streets on Monday at 3:00 pm, dressed in white, to carry out internal demands for the improvement of human rights and democracy.
The group, founded by Yunior Garcia, claims to have around 30,000 members inside and outside Cuba.
Garcia saw his plans to protest in Havana on Sunday blocked by the authorities, and on Monday, state security officers still prevented him from leaving the house, an AFP reporter testified.
Several other opposition members and independent journalists said they were confined to their homes.
– ‘Defend the Revolution’ –
The showdown came when the children returned to school on Monday after months of closure due to the coronavirus outbreak and coincided with the arrival of the first tourists – a pillar of the Cuban economy – after the borders reopened.
“Thus Cuba was born on November 15, with more than 700,000 pioneers in the classrooms; receiving friends, family and tourists; relaunching productive activity; decreasing Covid cases”, President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted on Monday, without mentioning the protest.
Diaz-Canel warned Friday that his supporters were “ready to defend the revolution” in the face of “an imperial (US) strategy to try to destroy the revolution”.
Cuban officials, who deny holding political prisoners, consider the opposition illegitimate and claim it is financed by Washington.
On Sunday, the United States urged Cuban authorities to lift the protest ban.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said:
We call on the Cuban government to respect the rights of Cubans by allowing them to assemble peacefully and use their voices without fear of government reprisals or violence and by keeping the internet and telecommunication lines open for the free exchange of information.
France added its voice to the protest, urging Cuba to “respect the right of its citizens to protest” and expressing concern over the evolution of the situation.
In an open letter published Sunday, dozens of Cuban and foreign NGOs denounced “the wave of repression that has intensified against protest organizers and citizens who identify with the movement”.
According to independent Cuban media, prosecutors have called for sentences of up to 30 years for some of the protesters arrested in July.
Cuba is experiencing its worst economic crisis since 1993, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the tightening of sanctions under former US President Donald Trump.
Outgoing President Joe Biden had promised during his election campaign to undo some of his predecessor’s punitive actions against Cuba in exchange for human rights reforms.
But after the government cracked down on the protests, the United States announced further sanctions for alleged rights violations.
The Cuban authorities have been accused by the rights control bodies of regular abuses, including arbitrary detention of dissidents, unfair trials and violations of freedom of speech and assembly.
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