Reports from Cuba: Repression in the face of increasing protests on 5th day of post-hurricane blackout

Juan Diego Rodriguez reports in 14yMedio from Havana via Translating Cuba:

Repression Breaks Out in Cuba in the Face of the Increasing Protests on the Fifth Day of the Post-Hurricane Blackout

Neighbors of Línea Street, in Havana’s El Vedado district, closed the central avenue on Saturday night to demand the restoration of electricity.

With the mobilization of police officers, State Security agents dressed in civilian clothes and military service recruits armed with sticks, the authorities responded on Saturday night to the popular protests on the fifth day without electricity in several municipalities of Havana. The cacerolazos [banging on pots and pans to demonstrate] and the barricades closing the streets and avenues marked the day.

On Línea Street, in El Vedado, the neighbors closed the central avenue at the intersection with F Street where vehicles pass to join the Malecón. Traffic was blocked by turned-over garbage cans and tree branches that fell in the winds of Hurricane Ian, which hit the Island last Tuesday.

A human cordon also stood blocking the road, which was illuminated with public lighting although the surrounding houses were still without electrical service. They chanted slogans such as “Put on the current!” And “Put on the light!”, a demand that was answered a while later with the arrival of buses and trucks full of shock troops dressed in civilian clothes to counter the demonstrators, as confirmed by a reporter from 14ymedio at the scene.

“They arrived in microbuses, trucks and buses, and you could tell they were security forces because of their tough talk,” a resident from the area told this newspaper. The people who were blocking the passage of the vehicles withdrew to their homes with the arrival of the official troops, who began to deploy throughout the street and the surrounding roads with a threatening attitude.

“It seems that they’re waiting for Forensics to find the fingerprints that people might have left in the garbage cans they put on the street, but that’s just to intimidate us,” another neighbor said. “But now people here have lost their fear; they’ve learned that if they don’t protest they won’t get respect.”

The place was completely taken over by State Security, and the operation was even larger than that deployed in the same area after the popular protests of July 11, 2021. “The most interesting thing is that the only ones who are in uniform are the bosses; there are even some with three stars on their uniforms, sitting in their typical locked cars, all parked at the corners,” said the woman.

Two blocks away there were also two buses full of repressors dressed in civilian clothes. “When the people who were on the street saw them arrive, they went running away in the middle of the darkness, and they couldn’t catch them. State security arrived with two “cage” trucks. What the repressors brought was disproportionate, because among those who protested were many old people and minors.”

This newspaper found that several of the bosses dressed in uniform were looking at the videos of the protest on Línea Street on their mobile phones to locate the places where it had been strongest and try to identify the participants. Several of them were reviewing on Facebook the transmissions of the demonstration and the closure of the avenue, and guiding themselves by those images to deploy the operation of agents dressed in civilian clothes.

Protests also took place on 31st Avenue, in the municipality of Plaza, for the second consecutive night. In a video posted on social networks, you can see dozens of people advancing along the road and pushing back the vehicles that are trying to cross through the crowd. From the neighboring houses, entire families are heard banging on pots and pans and shouting their support of the demonstrators.

41st Avenue, also in the municipality of Playa — one of the most affected in Havana by power outages — was the scene this Saturday of another popular protest very similar to the one led by its residents last Friday. The protesters made a chorus shouting “Freedom!” and filled the avenue between the corners of 42nd and 44th streets.

Several of the neighbors confirmed to this newspaper that they again saw young military-service recruits deployed, dressed in civilian clothes and holding sticks, as a group for confronting the protests. The same thing was also reported the night before and confirmed by the family and friends of these soldiers, who were taken in trucks and buses from their military units.

In Nuevo Vedado, a cacerolazo echoed in the vicinity of the Ministries of Agriculture and Transport, where several tall buildings remained without electricity on Saturday night, five days after the passage of the hurricane. Just after the night’s nine o’clock cannon shot* sounded, the cacerolazos began to be heard and lasted for more than two hours.

The residents of the area, which is made up mostly of buildings with more than ten floors, suffered not only from the lack of power but also from the difficulties in carrying water up the stairs to the upper floors. During the cacerolazo, there were also shouts demanding the return of power and addressing the dismal economic situation.

“I don’t have money to buy food!” a woman of a twelve-floor building on Santa Ana Street, between Estancia and Factor, shouted at full volume. “I have just had surgery; my daughter has dengue fever, and we have nothing to eat!” she added. The woman complained that no state entity had helped her in that situation and concluded her speech by emphasizing: “I’m through with the Revolution!”

“The child who doesn’t cry doesn’t get the breast,” another neighbor of the building known by its acronym ICRT (a building built in the 1980s by a microbrigade of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television) told 14ymedio. “We’ve been without power for five days because in this neighborhood people haven’t gone out to protest like in others. It’s about time for us to wake up because all of Havana is going to have light except us.”

“This is a neighborhood where there are many government supporters, many officials and many opportunists,” the same man explained to this newspaper. “People are afraid to point it out but the cacerolazo has the advantage that it can be done from inside the house and stay more anonymous. That’s something to start with.”

The cacerolazo in Nuevo Vedado extended to other nearby areas that also remained in the dark, as part of the municipality of Cerro and the vicinity of Puentes Grandes. Around four in the morning this Sunday, electricity service was restored in the area around the Ministries of Agriculture and Transport.

The reporters of this newspaper have also received reports of protests in Bauta, a municipality in the province of Artemisa, in Santiago de Las Vegas and in Guanabacoa, both in the province of Havana. In the latter, the popular demonstrations included the burning of garbage and other objects in the middle of the public road, scenes very similar to those with hundreds of residents in the area, also last Saturday.

Some Twitter users report the arrest of at least four young protesters on Línea, when it seemed that the protest had ended.

*The tradition of shooting off a cannon at 9:00 p.m. every night at the El Morro fortress in Havana goes back to colonial times, when it signaled the closing of the gates in the wall to protect the city from pirates.

Translated by Regina Anavy