Author: Martina Morabito
How Cuban authorities are handling the Protests.
The biggest and the most widespread protests to be held in Cuba in decades took place against the island’s Communist government On July 11th. Thousands of Cubans have risked jail by joining the biggest protests: “We are not afraid. We want change; we do not want any more dictatorship”.
These protests are significant because government critics face harsh punishments for dissent in Cuba. protests began immediately after the Cuban government announced that it will allow travellers arriving in the country to bring in food, medicine and other essentials without paying import duties has made the breakout of protests.
However, this announcement is only the tip of an iceberg of problems that affect Cubans since the year. Severe food and medicine shortages, price hikes and the government’s handling of the pandemic, together with the economic crisis, US sanctions have fuelled them.
Protesters are demanding free elections and change at the top after 62 years of communist rule.
Cuban officials refused to accept their demands and said the demonstrations had been fomented by the United States and its economic sanctions. The embargo does hinder or limit the possibility of assistance in the past and during the COVID-19 response last year. However, the existence of the embargo is no justification for the Cuban authorities’ repressive response to the protests on Sunday.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Sunday urged “revolutionaries” –meaning government supporters- and security forces to respond to the protests violently. “We call on all revolutionaries to go to the streets to defend the revolution. The order to fight has been given.”
In handling the protests, the Cuban government and police officers have violated several human rights.
Freedom of expression
The crackdown on freedom of expression against the government has always resulted in a mass exodus of Cubans to America. Activists in recent years have tried to hold demonstrations protesting artistic censorship, in favour of LGBTQ rights and demanding a law banning animal cruelty. However, Cuban police, plainclothes state security and baton-toting ‘rapid response brigades’ have quickly shut down those rare displays of defiance. A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to publish articles, videos, and news on websites and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. The government routinely blocks access within Cuba to many news websites and blogs.
In the wake of the protests, the rapid growth of mobile internet in Cuba has opened the way for Cubans to quickly organize and share images of protests.
Protest on social media leads to Cuba shut down the only internet provider on the island, which many blamed on the government trying to block communications.
AFP news agency journalists reported that Cuban authorities had restored access to the internet on Wednesday. However, some messaging and social media platforms reportedly remained blocked on 3G and 4G, including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Human Rights Watch has tried to contact journalists and rights activists in Cuba, but many have been unreachable. Others have only been able to talk via landlines or by circumventing internet restrictions.
Cuban authorities have used the criminal law to imprison and silence alternative voices in the country for decades. Cubans who criticize the government continue to risk criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal.
Along with arbitrary dismissals from state employment as a tactic to strip people of their livelihood, this has created a profound climate of fear in Cuba for decades.
Cuban officials have refused to say how many people were arrested following the island-wide protests.
According to the exile group Cubalex, as of July 26, nearly 700 Cubans have been detained since the protests started and the number of protesters who are being released amounts to 157.
People were arrested even if they did not participate in protests but merely for being in the street while the protests took place or simply for filming the demonstrations, facing serious charges including assault, disorderly conduct, damage to public property and instigation.
Relatives are not being informed of the whereabouts of those detained within a reasonable period nor they receive a phone call from detainees.
The rights of detainees to communicate with the outside world and to receive visits are fundamental safeguards against human rights violations, including torture or other ill-treatment and enforced disappearance.
Furthermore, Cuba is a party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. According to the Convention, a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or to disclose the fate or whereabouts of a person following their detention, can amount to an enforced disappearance, a crime under international law.
The authorities are looking for the protest “organizers” and “instigators”. Representatives from the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Interior said on state television that they were investigating individual responsibility for the organization of the protests and the “crimes” committed during the protests. A Colonel representing the Interior Ministry said the majority of those detained were not “revolutionary” and stated that many had previous convictions for a range of crimes, such as “public disorder”.
The Colonel vowed, “We will find the organizers, the instigators,” and said that those chanting “Patria y Vida” (a song some associate with sparking the protests) would be considered instigators.
Some activists and independent journalists remain under house arrest. Others experienced physical surveillance by uniformed police officers outside their homes and are unable to leave.
Use of force by police officers
Some protesters and journalists have reported that. Tactics against critics include beatings, public shaming, travel restrictions, short-term detention, fines, online harassment, surveillance, termination of employment and the use of pepper spray
Further, the Cuban government said one protester was killed in the neighbourhood by officials, who claim the demonstrator attempted to attack them.
Reactions against Cuba response to protests
The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights called on Cuba to release those detained for peacefully exercising their right to protest.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists detained during the protests. It said authorities had “intermittently blocked dozens of reporters from leaving their homes” and called on the government to allow the press to cover the protests freely and to stop disrupting internet in the country.
The Biden administration announced new sanctions Thursday against a Cuban official and a government special brigade that it says was involved in human rights abuses during a government crackdown on protests on the island earlier this month.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control listed Alvaro Lopez Miera, a Cuban military and political leader, and the Brigada Especial Nacional del Ministerio del Interior, or Interior Ministry Special Brigade, as among those who will face the latest sanctions.
Treasury said in a statement that Lopez Miera “has played an integral role in the repression of ongoing protests in Cuba.” Cuba’s Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which is led to by Lopez Miera, and other Cuban government’s security services have attacked protesters and arrested or disappeared over 100 protesters in an attempt to suppress these protests, according to Treasury.
The regime led by Miguel Diaz-Canel moved quickly, and violently, to stem the protests. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the actions by Cuban authorities, and violent mobs it mobilized, “lay bare the regime’s fear of its own people and unwillingness to meet their basic needs and aspirations.”
The move comes after the White House earlier this week announced that Biden had ordered his administration to take several steps to raise pressure on the communist regime after thousands of Cubans took to the streets of Havana and other cities across the island earlier this month to protest food shortages and high prices during the coronavirus crisis.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez immediately took to Twitter to call the sanctions “baseless and slanderous” and suggested that Biden apply the sanctions on himself “for acts of everyday repression and police brutality” in the U.S.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control had been tasked with exploring sanctioning Cuban officials who committed human rights violations against peaceful protesters in Cuba.
“The Cuban people are protesting for the fundamental and universal rights they deserve from their government,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. “Treasury will continue to enforce its Cuba-related sanctions, including those imposed today, to support the people of Cuba in their quest for democracy and relief from the Cuban regime.”
Biden has also called for the State Department to launch a working group to review U.S. remittance policy to ensure that money that Cuban Americans send home makes it directly into the hands of their families without the regime taking a cut.