The 2nd Anniversary of the July 11th Protests in Cuba
What seemed to be an ordinary day of struggle for Cubans would become one of the most impressive and sad days in Cuban history in the last 60 years. On July 11, 2021, the small town of San Antonio de los Baños took to the streets. From early hours and fueled by hunger, shortages, and blackouts, amid a pandemic, people en masse took to the streets peacefully, to demand the regime’s attention to the pressing problems they suffered.
Thanks to the internet, the news spread like wildfire and soon dozens of towns across the island joined the historic protest. At first, they were totally peaceful. The people marched demanding the end of misery and the communist yoke under the slogan “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life), an emblematic song that has become a cry for liberation.
The government’s repressive forces, taken by surprise, did not react to the avalanche of people. They let the protesters pass, limiting themselves to protecting certain sensitive points of government offices and surrounding the protesters. It was not until noon that the repression began, after the appointed Cuban President said the most infamous of his phrases broadcast on all national media: “…the combat order has been issued, revolutionaries, take to the streets.”
After the president’s order, which sounded like an incitement to civil war, all the repressive forces were activated, including the army, special troops from the different armed forces and the feared civil forces of State Security and Counter-intelligence.
The government strategy included inciting people to take action against government stores and businesses. From that moment on, shops and shop windows were smashed, the hungry people stormed and emptied more than one store… and what could have been peaceful civic protests soon turned into social disorder and vandalism.
Government forces, dressed indistinctly as soldiers and civilians, went into action and soon there were direct confrontations with the protestors, the latter armed with stones and sticks while the troops used weapons with live bullets and fired mercilessly. The repression was brutal: highly trained special troops confronted the defenseless people, the integrity of the detainees was not respected and almost all of them were beaten during police custody, even when their hands were handcuffed.
On July 12 there were still some pockets of rebellion and with them the cruelty was immense. The neighborhood of La Güinera, one of the most impoverished in the capital, maintained the spirit of protest and the viciousness of the repressive troops was directed against them. Elite military forces, special troops, trained dogs and, what is most serious, firearms with live ammunition were used, which left a balance of at least one dead from a shot from behind, two wounded and a little more than a hundred detainees.
Almost all of those detained for the events of July 11 were subjected to physical and psychological torture, beatings, threats, forced disappearance for days, and other methods of cruel and inhuman treatment expressly condemned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After long months of confinement in the worst prisons in the country and under a more rigorous regime, the detainees were subjected to trials where many sentences ranged from five years to 30 years in prison.
Blind to the need to renew the country’s social pact, the government unleashed its wrath. The trials were rigged. The accusations were based on weak arguments, without evidence of the accessed crimes, and the statement of any witness was enough to make the conviction effective, witnesses who were almost entirely military or members of the Communist Party. To avoid any doubt, the sentences were handed down in advance by State Security.
Two years after the events, more than 700 detainees are still in jail serving long sentences. Among the prisoners and detainees, were more than 50 minors have been sentenced to harsh prison terms, including a 16-year-old boy sentenced to the same number of years in prison.
These prisoners are incarcerated in the most violent prisons in the country. They are subjected to psychological and physical torture on a daily basis, ranging from the denial of medical attention to beatings by the guards, through attacks by common prisoners at the service of State Security, denial of family contact or with their defense lawyers. Likewise, total isolation, denial of water or food, forced labor, threats to family members, and other humiliating and degrading treatment, all of which is widely documented by the NGO Prisoners Defenders and other human rights organizations, as well as by the independent Cuban press.
Two years after the heroic but sad events, the number of political prisoners in Cuba exceeds a thousand, the majority being those prosecuted over the July 11th protests. In a clear attempt to shield itself against accusations, the regime has enacted new laws that toughen the sentences for any attempt to criticize the government or its leaders, notably the New Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the New Social Communication Law.
During this period, Cuban activists and independent journalists have seen an intensification of actions of repression and harassment against them and their relatives. They are constantly summoned by the political police, arbitrarily detained in the middle of public thoroughfares, their homes are searched with or without warrants based on invented crimes. During the raids their equipment and means of work are stolen or destroyed.
Others are placed under lengthy house confinement without a court order using the technique of posting a patrol at the door of their house or apartment building and preventing them from freely going out into the street. When detained, they are subjected to long and humiliating interrogations, they and their relatives are threatened, often made to go through humiliating situations such as undressing women for no reason or displaying sexual preferences or intimate photos taken without authorization from mobile phones and computers through hacking techniques.
The last straw is that they produced two television programs dedicated exclusively to media lynching and character assassination through false accusations claiming they are mercenaries.
On the other hand, the economic and social situation has only worsened after an attempt at economic reforms failed miserably and has only created a chaos of prices and triggered rampant inflation. The national economy shows no signs of recovery, and its main branches are operating at their lowest historical levels, when they are not totally paralyzed. The increase in poverty is palpable and situations not seen on the island since the sad “Special Period” crisis of the 1990s are already common. These include people fainting on public streets because of hunger or the emergence of diseases due to undernourishment. All this misery has brought with it an increase in violent criminal acts, led by armed robberies, robberies in inhabited homes and even murders.
Two years after the July 11 protests, the situations that led to them have not improved. Quite the contrary, they have worsened and there are so many that a simple article is not enough to show or explain them. This situation has launched more than a quarter of a million Cubans on the emigration adventure since the pandemic travel restrictions were lifted, both through legal and illegal channels, with the consequent risk to life. It should be noted that most of these emigrants are young people of working age, and many are even university graduates in professions of high value for the country’s economic development, thus jeopardizing the future of an already aged population.
Within this new wave of massive emigration that already exceeds all the previous ones that have occurred on the island, many of the prisoners and detainees of July 11 have escaped from the oppressive yoke after being released or at a time when they were allowed a temporary exit from the jail. They have escaped the harassment practiced by the political police even after serving their unjust sentences, as well as the impossibility of finding decent work within their abilities, with the risk of going back to prison for the simple fact of not working.
Two years after July 11, its causes remain intact or have escalated. Proof of what I have exposed here are the many small-scale protests that take place throughout the island every month and that are documented by the independent media. While this is happening, the government acts as if nothing were happening and silences the protests or devalues them with the well-worn argument of being “at the service of the United States empire.” Meanwhile they continue to blame all their economic and social disasters on the US embargo, an embargo that allows the importation of luxury cars, but according to what they say, falsely, not food or medicine.
In conclusion, the conditions for one and a hundred July 11th repeats are given, it is only a matter of when. The regime knows this and in its infinite arrogance it only shields itself with laws that it does not even respect when it comes to repressing. An upcoming confrontation could be truly violent since the people know that failure to overthrow the tyranny would have serious consequences.
I firmly believe that a national dialogue is urgent since a scenario of disorder and chaos is not desirable for anyone. The ball is on the side of the regime, it is the regime that is responsible for giving oxygen to a society that languishes amid misery, despair and repression. It is time to forget the “Patria o Muerte” (Homeland or Death) of the decadent -if not already dead- Revolution, and begin to live the Patria y Vida (Homeland and Life) of the new generations.