Cuban Authorities Appear to Largely Shut Down Planned Human-Rights Protests
(Bloomberg) -- Cuban authorities appeared to have largely shut down anti-government protests Monday, squashing opposition hopes of building on the massive demonstrations that roiled the island in July.
Human rights groups said protest leaders were being intimidated, isolated and harassed, keeping them from taking to the streets.
“We’re seeing an increase in the number of people who are being detained, and an escalation in the use of intimidation and threats of violence,” said Laritza Diversent, the founder of the Cubalex human rights group.
The Cuban government declared Monday’s “Civic March for Change” illegal. Leaders of the communist island have blamed the social unrest on Washington and its economic sanctions.
Several activists posted videos of their homes being surrounded by pro-government crowds chanting “traitor” and “mercenaries.” Others, including journalists, reported having their Internet cut off. Over the weekend, Spain’s state-run news agency, EFE, said its reporters in Cuba had their work permits revoked, sparking a rebuke from Madrid. Groups also said there was a heavy police presence in the streets of Havana.
The protests come as the island’s economy has been staggering under the pandemic and a series of painful economic reforms that have sent inflation soaring. Organizers were hoping to use the event to press for human and civil rights, including the release of political prisoners.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel -- who took power in 2018 after his mentors, Fidel and Raul Castro, ruled the island for more than 50 years -- downplayed the discontent, tweeting out images of tourists arriving in Havana and children in school.
In July, tens of thousands took to the streets demanding “freedom” and “food,” in one of the largest protests in Cuba’s history. Cubalex says more than 600 people remain detained in the wake of those protests, and more than 100 have been charged with “sedition,” which can carry prison sentences of 10-20 years.
In addition, the government responded by tightening social media laws. Most Cubans didn’t have access to the Internet until 2015. Social media platforms and messaging apps have become hotbeds for dissent and organizing protests.
“We call on the Cuban government to respect Cubans’ rights, by allowing them to peacefully assemble and use their voices without fear of government reprisal or violence, and by keeping Internet and telecommunication lines open for the free exchange of information,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Sunday. “We urge the Cuban government to reject violence, and instead, embrace this historic opportunity to listen to the voices of their people.”
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