The Castro dictatorship is desperately trying to regain control through fear and repression, but after July 11, the dying communist regime has been exposed and Cubans are no longer afraid.
Cuba’s Dissidents Dig In Despite Government Crackdown
Activists, artists and professionals challenge the Communist regime even as hundreds of protesters face contempt, sedition and sabotage charges
Four months after a wave of spontaneous demonstrations against Cuba’s 62-year-old Communist regime, civic groups and dissidents are defying authorities with protests inside high-security prisons and plans for peaceful rallies across the nation to demand democracy.
Despite facing a crackdown that includes forced exile, summary trials and prison sentences of as much as 25 years, government critics ranging from artists to doctors have openly expressed discontent on social media. They have boycotted international events sponsored by the government and denounced labor and human-rights violations, posing challenges to the totalitarian regime.
In late October, imprisoned members of the San Isidro Movement, an art collective from a crumbling neighborhood in Havana that has confronted the regime, staged hunger strikes to demand freedom and due process. Many of them have been held in prison without trial after being detained in May on public disorder and contempt charges.
In a high-security prison in western Pinar del Río province, inmates began to chant “Patria y Vida!” or “Fatherland and Life” in September as word spread that political prisoner and fellow inmate Maykel Castillo was nominated for a Latin Grammy award as co-writer of “Patria y Vida,” said Eliexer “El Funky” Márquez, who recently left the island to attend the awards ceremony in the U.S. He is also co-writer of the song.
“Patria y Vida” is a confrontational rap song that has become an anthem for the island’s disaffected. During July’s mass protests, thousands had chanted “Patria y Vida,” a challenge to the regime’s decades-old motto of “Patria o Muerte,” or “Fatherland or Death.”
Since the island’s biggest demonstrations in decades broke out in mid-July, close to 1,200 people have been arrested. About half are in prison awaiting trial, while others were fined, given house arrest or sentenced to as much as a year in prison on charges such as public disorder.
Close to 200 detainees face longer sentences of between five and 25 years on criminal charges that include sabotage and sedition, according to Cubalex, a rights group.
But the arrests have done seemingly little to discourage an increasingly organized and determined opposition movement, fueled by a wave of anger in the island nation over its lack of freedom and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the country’s sharpest economic contraction since the early 1990s.
Last month, dissidents requested permission from authorities to hold a peaceful, nationwide demonstration on Nov. 15 for democratic change. In a nation where even asking for permission to protest can be met with prison or intimidation, it represented a direct challenge to the regime. It was denied, and Cuban officials, who say the planned protests are part of a U.S. attempt to destabilize Cuba, have vowed to prosecute protesters.
“The world watches #Cuba as the regime works to stifle peaceful protests on #15N,” Brian A. Nichols, assistant U.S. secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, wrote on Twitter. “We ask the Cuban government to instead use this opportunity to listen to the voices of the Cuban people.”
The dissidents say they will try to demonstrate anyway.
“They have sicced prosecutors on us, and threatened us with expulsion from work and universities, but I think many young people have more dignity than fear,” said Yunior García, a playwright and founder of Archipiélago, a rights group with more than 31,000 members on Facebook that requested permission for the demonstration.
In response to groups such as Archipiélago, the government decreed over the summer that people using social media to “subvert public order” and “promote social misconduct” will face cyberterrorism and other criminal charges.
In a speech on Oct. 24, President Miguel Díaz-Canel called on supporters to close ranks. “We have sufficient revolutionaries to face…any sort of protest that seeks to destroy the Revolution,” he told Communist Party delegates.
Other dissidents and opponents of the regime face forced exile. Mr. Márquez said the regime won’t allow him to return to Cuba. Authorities also want Mr. Castillo and imprisoned visual artist Luis Manuel Otero to leave the island—permanently. Friends of Messrs. Castillo and Otero say the regime offered them an exit from prison in exchange for exile. They declined, friends say.