Reports from Cuba: Be silent or complain: The dilemma of the relatives of July protest detainees

Luz Escobar reports in 14yMedio from Havana via Translating Cuba:

Be Silent or Complain: The Dilemma of the Relatives of July Protest Detainees

Yunior Villarejo Estévez and Eduardo Manuel Báez arrested for the popular protests last July.

The relatives of the protesters arrested on July 11 are debating between a public denunciation or keeping a low profile to avoid further complicating the situation of their relatives, but more and more people are breaking their silence to demand immediate release or to point out irregularities in the judicial process.

“I have not been able to sleep for a month,” said Eduardo Báez, father of 22-year-old Eduardo Manuel Báez, speaking to 14ymedio. The younger Báez was arrested with his girlfriend one day after the demonstrations. She was released with 8,000 pesos as bail but the young computer science teacher is still under arrest. “We have not been able to see him or talk to him,” says the father from Güines, Mayabeque.

“They were accusing him for the crime of public disorder, but also for robbery with force, which is the little poster that they hung from those who, allegedly, participated in the events in the MLC stores, which occurred together with the protests when the people entered against these establishments owned by the army,” he details.

The stores that take payment only in hard currencies were the target of popular fury in several localities, where citizens smashed windows and looted shelves. Managed by the Cimex corporation, a military conglomerate that controls large sectors of commerce, these stores have earned social anger for selling food and basic products in foreign currency.

“Because the MLC stores belong to the army,” Báez points out, “it is the military prosecutor’s office that is accusing them,” and adds that they have not even allowed him to hire a lawyer. Last Wednesday the situation became even more complicated for the family when they learned that the young man had tested positive for Covid-19 in a prison in San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque.

The name of Báez is one of the hundreds included in the list of detainees and disappeared of the 11 July protests that several activists have written about despite the setbacks: “In Santiago de Cuba aberrant things have happened such as that they have released the person but they have taken their cellphones and those of the their immediate family, so they have not been able to communicate with anyone for days, so that complicates the updating a lot,” reports journalist Ivette Leyva, who has contributed to the preparation of the list of detainees, speaking to 14ymedio.

According to this list, of the total complaints collected, 164 are women and 672 are men. There are still 170 cases that are in the process of verification and there are 168 detainees, while 197 people have been released, although the majority are in home confinement.

Báez is concerned that they are being cruel to his son: “Many people who were in the stores and who had in their possessions items stolen from these establishments, which were then seized, have already been released, even without bail.” Seeing this panorama, he wonders: what is the problem with my son, is there any anger against him?”

“He is not a vandal, he is not a thief, my son only likes to play video games and with computers. He is a man with the mind of a child, a young man full of poverty who only lives on his monthly salary,” he says, expressing pride and pain. “As a father I am desperate,” concludes Báez.

Odalys Estévez, 30-year-old mother of Yunior Villarejo Estévez, has also chosen to denounce the situation of her son, detained on July 11 in Havana. The woman relates that in the summary trial that was carried out on July 20, Villarejo received a 10-month sentence of deprivation of liberty for “public disorder” and is in the Valle Grande prison.

Arrested at the intersection of Reina and Belascoaín streets, in Centro Habana, the young man was beaten during the arrest by State Security agents who took him from the demonstration with violence: “I have the videos. I had hopes that they would release him with a precautionary measure even if it is for house arrest and they did not do it,” says the mother.

“There has not been any kind of consideration, he did nothing. They beat him because he just picked up the phone (…) I can’t take it anymore, I don’t know what I’m going to do, my son is innocent, a tremendous injustice that they have committed with him,” he says.

Others have received better news despite the sad days. This is the case of the relatives of Reyniel Pacheco who recently reported that the young man had already been released.

“Today I want to thank all the people who supported me with the freedom of my brother, they have already released him,” wrote Yani Pacheco, the detainee’s sister, on his Facebook profile. Pacheco was held incommunicado since July 12, when he was arrested, and his whereabouts were unknown for several weeks until, in a call from Quivicán prison, an inmate alerted them of his whereabouts.

A similar case is that of Damián Yacel Hernández Viera, one of the protesters who took to the streets of the Quivicán municipality, Mayabeque province, on July 11. The authorities of that territory notified him that all the judicial charges against him would be withdrawn. Hernández was also returned the 8,000 pesos he’d paid in bail.

Meanwhile, dozens or hundreds of families refuse to speak to the independent press or to report the arrest of a relative. They cling to the idea that maintaining discretion could aid their relative’s speedy release. With their reports, the number of those arrested during that day and the following days could increase considerably.