Ten days after the wave of protests that shook Cuba, the Government still does not give an official number of detainees, although various sources assure that there are hundreds, mostly young people. Little by little, some of those arrested on July 11 and 12 have been taking to the streets, some with measures of home confinement and pending trial and others without charges. Several have given testimony of what happened and denounced police abuses and excessive violence in the streets and in police stations. During the maleconazo protests in 1994, hundreds of people were brought to summary trial and received sentences of up to one year in prison for public disorder, and something similar is expected to happen now.
The incidents this summer were much greater than those of 1994, confined to Havana. On this occasion, it was a veritable wave of demonstrations that shook cities and towns throughout the country, in which thousands of people participated. Although the internet continues to be cut off or malfunctioning, little by little videos have circulated on social networks documenting the protests, most of them peaceful, but also others that led to riots and looting of shops. The authorities assure that more than 50 establishments were vandalized, and warns that the perpetrators will be judged with all rigor.
In one of these videos, filmed by the protesters themselves with their mobile phones, it can be seen how a historical commander, Ramiro Valdés, who was twice Minister of the Interior, was booed and forced to withdraw amid shouts of “freedom” in the eastern town of Palma Soriano. In the Matanzas town of Cárdenas, the epicenter of the pandemic at the moment, people overturned police cars and even the vehicle of the secretary of the Communist Party, something absolutely unprecedented.
There is a common denominator in most of the footage released, and that is the harsh response of the police and similar civilians armed with sticks, scenes of violence against protesters that have shaken many Cubans. Along with this, the first testimonies of young detainees who have already been released have begun to appear. Great impact had on social networks the story of Leonardo Romero Negrín, a 22-year-old university student who was arrested on July 11 in front of the Capitol, where the protest was largest.
Romero says that he came out in defense of a former student of his who was being kicked by the police for filming with his mobile. “Several officers took me, they made me a key, they beat me, but it was not there that they really beat me. They took me to the Dragones station, which is exactly one block away, and when we entered they threw me on the floor and four people kicked me everywhere. I covered my face with my forearms and they kept kicking me, that’s why I have a swollen forearm, a doctor saw it. Also a rib hurts, it did not fracture, but it hurts, and the doctor saw it ”.
Romero Negrín was already arrested on April 30 for demonstrating on Obispo Street with a sign that said “Socialism yes, repression no”, and was under a precautionary measure, therefore, he says in an article published in the digital medium The Young Cuba, avoided participating in the protest, but was still arrested. At the police station, says the student, he was taken to a little patio. “An officer went with a white wooden board and a camera in the other hand, which belonged to a state journalist who was there and saw everything. I don’t want to involve him, but he’s a journalist from Alma Mater you saw exactly everything they did to me. The officer slapped my legs several times, I still have the scars. When I was going to leave there another officer came, 03912 from the Dragon station, and told two people to hold me, grabbed me by the hair with both hands and said: ‘For a mercenary!’ He hit me on the nose, I almost fainted, and they kept hitting me before transferring me to the Zanja station. “
His testimony, to which is added that of other young people who have denounced similar events, has set social networks on fire. The historian and essayist Julio César Guanche said that it is essential “that the abuses that have been committed are recognized and an official statement urgently qualifies them as unacceptable.” Guanche asked “to prosecute only people who have committed serious crimes against other people or property, taking into account the seriousness of the consequences and the context in which it occurred.” He also asked “to review the police action with firm sanction for cases of excesses, with precise information on the detainees and the withdrawal of charges for all peaceful protesters.”
Former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray pointed out that “at this point there is still no official number of detainees or information on how many demonstrations took place, and how many were peaceful,” while the magazine Alma Mater, institutional and aimed at university students, released a statement in which it reported having contacted Negrín and another detained student to document their cases. “We express our willingness to continue investigating and publicize any case of excessive use of force during the police action on July 11 against people who demonstrated peacefully,” says the magazine. Another milestone.
The commotion caused by the images and testimonies is considerable, and the Cuban president himself, Miguel Díaz-Canel, has already recognized that “it would be necessary to apologize” if excesses were committed against innocents, but insisted on considering the majority of the protesters as criminals , mercenaries and “confused”. And he accused the United States of being behind what happened and of manipulating social networks to give an image of ungovernability on the island.
The streets today are still full of police and no more incidents are known; now the attention is on the prisoners and the processes that will come. Romero, who claims to have seen more than a hundred detainees during the five days he was imprisoned, is under house arrest awaiting a trial for public disorder.
It is enough to put on the Cuban television news to realize the impact of what happened. On Monday, some journalists at the airport interviewed travelers arriving loaded with medicines and food that now do not pay tariffs, a first measure announced after the protest in the direction of demonstrating that the Government is moving to alleviate the hardships, the basis of citizen unrest that caused thousands of people to take to the streets on July 11. In another report, official television echoed the humanitarian aid collected by the population and the private sector to alleviate the emergency situation in Matanzas, another trigger for the demonstrations. Until now, assuming that the State is the absolute responsible in this matter, the authorities have been very zealous in avoiding popular campaigns to promote this type of solidarity, or have made them difficult due to excessive bureaucracy – something that has outraged many. people— but now the line is to facilitate it.
In the official discourse, a certain tone of self-criticism has been imposed, admitting that the situation of discontent has objective causes and recognizing internal errors, beyond the fact that the North American embargo continues to be considered the main cause of the worsening of the crisis. Everyone hopes that what happened will speed up reforms announced a thousand times but so far postponed, such as the legalization of SMEs.
Subscribe here to the newsletter from MRT América and receive all the informative keys of the current situation of the region.