- BBC News World
A wide police deployment, acts of repudiation, selective telephone cuts and arrests of activists have marked the day in Cuba this Monday, the day on which the opposition had called an unprecedented march against the government.
According to several Cubans from different provinces to BBC Mundo – and according to numerous testimonies and graphic material on social networks – the authorities made a wide deployment of troops in the main avenues, parks and crowded places in most of the country.
“There are more police officers than there are stones in the street,” said a 38-year-old resident of the province of Pinar del Río, who asked not to be named.
Meanwhile, another 33-year-old from Havana said that numerous groups in civilian clothes guarded the streets and sometimes even came close to questioning those they saw with their cell phones in their hands.
“It is a very strange environment: guards every 100 meters. Many avenues are fenced so in case something happens to close them and you have to be careful, because if you walk with something white, they will fall on you,” said the young man, referring to the call to wear garments of that color as a sign of protest.
The Cuban government declared “illegal” the march called by the Archipelago group, a platform created a couple of months ago by the playwright Yunior García.
The authorities assure that it is a “attempted destabilization“” financed by the United States “and accuses the organizers of being” agents in the service of the CIA “or of orchestrating a” soft coup “.
Numerous independent journalists and activists wrote on social media that they were under “house arrest”, with patrols at the doors of their homes preventing them from leaving, while others denounced arrests, interrogations and threats.
Given this situation, reports from the island suggest that only some opponents took to the streets and – according to the complaints – were quickly arrested.
Human Right Watch He denounced that he was receiving “devastating” reports from Cuba regarding the “massive deployment of security forces.”
“The intention is clear; to suppress any attempt to protest,” wrote the organization’s director for the Americas, José Miguel Vivanco.
In more than 100 cities around the world, marches in support of the protest were reported between Sunday and Monday.
How has the government responded
The official media have not reported on the police deployment, but have filled their covers with stories and headlines that allude to the “normality” and “joy” of the day, which coincided with the return of Cuban students to schools and the reopening of tourism after the pandemic.
“Cuba optimistic, happy, secure, firm and always victorious this November 15,” headlined the official newspaper Granma, the voice of the Communist Party (the only legal one).
In an unusual live broadcast via Facebook from the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez also appeared to highlight the “party” atmosphere and the “tranquility of the day.”
“Inside Cuba it has been a happy, festive day of well-deserved celebration“, said.
“There those who created other expectations outside of Cuba that were not met. They stayed dressed for that party,” he added, alluding to the government’s argument that the call for the protest was organized from the United States.
What is the context?
After the spontaneous demonstrations of July 11 that led to a violent response from the authorities and the arrest of hundreds of people – many of whom are still in prison – young activists decided to resort to a gap left open by the Magna Carta in which the right to peaceful protest on the island.
They then requested authorization to carry out a march on November 20, although the authorities then responded with the announcement of the holding of military exercises – a “National Defense Day” – for the same date.
It was then that the Archipelago coordinators decided to advance the march for this Monday.
However, the authorities denied permission, claiming that the march would cause “disturbances” and sought a change in the system, which is prohibited by the Constitution itself, which defines socialism as “irrevocable.”
What else happened?
Since before the weekend, in several provinces police and military deployments were reported on several central avenues.
Opponents and independent journalists denounced that he could not leave his home and others said that they had received threats, that they had been questioned or that their phones had been cut off.
On Sunday, the government called a “conga” (parade with traditional music) down the street where García was scheduled to march, while the president attended a meeting with young people to celebrate the “return to normality.”
Yunior García, who led the convocation and who wanted to demonstrate alone and with a white rose on Sunday, the police prohibited him from leaving his house, blocked his windows with flags and organized acts of repudiation against him (people who are taken to shout in front of the houses of dissidents.
In an interview with BBC Mundo on Friday, García admitted that it was a very real possibility that he could not leave his home and that the call for the march failed.
However, he alleged that the government’s own response had been the success of the convocation.
“We have forced them to remove all their masks and, in that sense, this initiative has already been a resounding victory,” he said.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.