A huge painting with the image of the late communist leader Fidel Castro was shattered in front of the historic Havana Capitol on Sunday, as thousands of protesters took to the streets almost throughout the island to demand the end of the one-party system that Castro established in 1959.
The scene was the closest thing to the end of an era: Cubans not only destroyed the image of the “historical leader” of the revolution, but also staged the most numerous protests against the communist regime since it was established.
The demonstrations, which this Tuesday reach their third consecutive day and have left at least one dead, spread in a matter of hours over dozens of territories on the island thanks to internet access. a service that the regime began providing Cubans at exorbitant prices late in December 2018 and that, since then, has been the trench of dissident voices against the monopoly of the state media.
But this tool —which has made visible the popular discontent with the state’s management and the violence with which the protesters have been stifled— has been interrupted or intermittently for more than 48 hours.
“Right now there is a lot of pressure for us not to tell what is happening. The ruling party wants to hijack the narrative, the story of what happens in Cuban streets, ”said independent journalist Yoani Sánchez, one of the most international faces of the opposition in Cuba this morning.
The Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa), the only internet provider on the island, did not respond to several requests for comment from Noticias Telemundo about the prolonged service outages, which began to be denounced by users since Sunday.
“At the moment we have an impact on the Internet service through mobile phones. Our specialists are working on its restoration as soon as possible,” the company said in a standardized email.
More than a dozen civilians, independent reporters and political activists contacted by telephone by Noticias Telemundo in different provinces of the island said that this Tuesday the country woke up militarized for the second day in a row: dissidents and reporters are kept in house custody, have been arrested or their whereabouts are unknown. Without the internet, they say, they feel more vulnerable than ever.
Amnesty International says that so far 140 protesters have been arrested, but the number could be much higher. A video posted by the EFE agency’s correspondent in Cuba, Lorena Cantó, on Monday showed dozens of people outside a police station in Havana trying to find out about their missing or imprisoned relatives.
A civilian identified by the state press as Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, 36 years old and resident in Havana, is the first fatality reported by the regime, which described the deceased as “antisocial and criminal.”
It is not known exactly how many people have been injured, due to the lack of transparency of the official media.
It is not the first time that the Cuban regime has interrupted the internet service for the purposes of political censorship, according to opponents.
The most recent internet blackouts in Cuba coincided with the forced eviction of hunger strikers from the dissident Movimiento San Isidro in Havana, on November 26, 2020; and the physical aggression of officials against independent artists in front of the Ministry of Culture, on January 27 of this year, according to data from the Inventory Project.
“These internet cuts have only one objective: that what is happening is not seen by more people. If that happens, people will continue to take to the streets, “Alfredo Rodríguez, a young engineer who demonstrated on Sunday in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, told Noticias Telemundo from Havana to demand a space on national television. Shortly after arriving at the agency, his group was violently suffocated, according to videos filmed by Rodríguez himself.
“We demand 10 or 15 minutes on national television, because television is a parallel universe. They paint us as paid mercenaries and that is not the case, “he said.” We are not just asking for food and medicine, but for freedom. Let the dictatorship come to an end ”.
Opponents argue that, with internet outages, the regime also seeks to prevent people from seeing the demonstrations in their neighboring municipalities and provinces and they are encouraged to take to the streets as well, as well as to make arrests and suffocate those who continue to demonstrate.
“They (the rulers) delayed access to the Internet for a long time and they knew that when it was massive they would have to have some strategy to tame that ‘wild colt’,” said communicator Norges Rodríguez, who directs YucaByte, a Cuban magazine independent about technology and activism on the island. “The regime is now using this same technology, but based on censorship.”
[Denuncian la venta de croquetas explosivas en Cuba: “Me bañó la cara y el pecho de aceite hirviendo”]
Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel came under fire on Sunday after accusing protesters of receiving funding from the United States government to subvert order, a device often used to delegitimize dissident voices. He was also singled out for encouraging what opponents called a “civil war.”
“The order of combat is given: to the streets the revolutionaries,” he said on national television on Sunday afternoon, after visiting the town of San Antonio de los Baños, southwest of Havana, where the protests began.
Shortly thereafter, images emerged of communist supporters and plainclothes officers carrying rustic weapons and beating peaceful protesters.
Washington has supported the protests and demanded that Cuba “listen” to the claims of its people, who are experiencing the worst stage of the COVID-19 pandemic amid a serious shortage of medicines and food. The island’s economy fell by 11% in 2020 and the pandemic has caused an almost total cessation of tourism, an important source of income for the country of just over 11 million inhabitants.
“Cubans pay dearly for freedom and dignity. We ask for their immediate release.”said Julie Chung, the acting undersecretary of the US Department of State’s Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs, mentioning high-profile opponents such as Coco Fariñas and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who remain in custody unaccounted for.
In Florida, where the bulk of Cuban emigrants are found, some have asked that they be allowed to enter the island on private boats to carry donations, according to the newspaper. Miami Herald. But the Coast Guard indicated that it would not give such permission, arguing that the trip is “dangerous and unforgiving.” Nearly 20 Cubans have died trying to cross the Florida Straits in recent weeks, aboard homemade boats that capsized.
Havana has not said if it is considering opening the coasts of the Caribbean island to a new exodus, a mechanism to release political pressure that communists in power since 1959 have used repeatedly to get rid of disgruntled people. The best known is the exodus through the port of Mariel, in 1980, after which more than 125,000 Cubans left the island.