Cuban opposition prepares to defy government ban on nationwide protest

Issued on:

The Cuban opposition has said it will take to the streets as planned on Monday to demand the release of political prisoners, despite authorities banning the demonstration and preventing its organizers leaving their homes the day before.

News of the “15N” (November 15) gathering in Havana and six provinces has spread rapidly on Cuban social media platforms in past weeks, with opposition supporters planning to highlight the continued detention of hundreds of prisoners jailed since history-making protests in July.

Those nationwide demonstrations left one person dead, dozens of injured and 1,270 arrested. More than 650 are still in jail, says the human rights group Cubalex.

The protest could thwart the government’s plan for Monday to mark a jubilant “return to normal” after months of Covid-19 border and school closures, and could disrupt festivities celebrating the 502nd anniversary of Havana.

Cuba cracks down on dissent ahead of protest march

“Our motto is peace,” promised President Miguel Diaz-Canel, speaking on television on Friday. “In peace we will start a new stage of the school year on the 15th, in peace our economy will recover.”

But he also warned that his supporters were “ready to defend the revolution” in the face of “an imperial strategy (of the United States) to try to destroy the revolution.”

Cuban officials, who deny the existence of political prisoners in the country, consider the opposition to be illegitimate and allege it is financed by Washington.

On Sunday the United States urged Cuban authorities to lift the ban on the demonstration.

“We call on the Cuban government to respect Cubans’ rights, by allowing them to peacefully assemble and use their voices without fear of government reprisal or violence, and by keeping Internet and telecommunication lines open for the free exchange of information,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

‘Home under siege’

But security forces on Sunday stepped up the pressure, surrounding the home of one of the organizers as he was preparing to set off on a solo protest march.

“I woke up this morning with my home under siege,” 39-year-old playwright Yunior Garcia said in a video on Facebook.

Garcia had planned to walk through central Havana dressed in white and with a white rose in hand, to signify protesters’ non-violent intentions.

AFP journalists witnessed numerous state agents in civilian clothing blocking Garcia’s street or stationed on rooftops in his neighborhood, where they unfurled huge Cuban flags.

Garcia, who has been portrayed in official media as “Enemy Number One,” said state agents had told him earlier that “they will not allow me to protest,” adding, “they even told me which prison they were going to take me to.”

At least six other coordinators of Archipielago, a Facebook protest group created by Garcia, were earlier prevented from leaving their homes, while one dissident, Guillermo Farinas, was arrested on Friday, the group said.

On Saturday, in an apparent bid to minimize international attention on the protests, Cuban authorities revoked the credentials of six journalists with Spanish news agency EFE.

The credentials of two journalists were subsequently returned, EFE announced.

‘Wave of repression’

In an open letter published Sunday, around 40 civil organizations inside Cuba and abroad denounced “the wave of repression that has intensified against the organizers of the protest and citizens who identify with the movement.”

Despite the growing pressure, Archipielago, which has 30,000 followers in Cuba and abroad, has maintained its call for the Monday protests, telling participants to dress in white.

It is unclear whether the call to action will be taken up as widely as in July, with the government intent on cracking down on the movement.

As well as banning the demonstration, authorities have threatened participants with criminal sanctions.

According to independent Cuban media, prosecutors have been requesting sentences of up to 30 years for some of the protestors arrested in July.

On Sunday, Diaz-Canel visited a Havana park where several dozen Communist students have held a pro-government sit-in since Friday to repeat his message of peace.

“Cuba is going to live in peace,” he told the cheering students, “and by living in peace we are going to improve ourselves.”