Correspondent in Havana
Thousands of Cubans throughout the country took to the streets to protest against the dictatorship shouting “Homeland and Life! Freedom! Díaz-Canel singao!” The wave of protests began in San Antonio de los Baños, Artemisa province, and, although the regime cut off internet access, three hours later, protests were reported in almost all the island’s provinces.
Amid the protests, the president Miguel Diaz-Canel He called for violence on national television: “The order to fight is given, revolutionaries take to the streets.” And he assured that he is willing to defend the revolution “at whatever price is necessary.”
In Cárdenas, Matanzas, protesters even stoned police cars and stores that sell in dollars, in response to the social discontent that exists, especially since these markets they have accentuated poverty and social inequalities. In them, products are offered to which the majority of the population does not have access. Pinar del Río, Havana, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila, and Granma reported violent clashes between the population and the military, resulting in several injuries.
From the beginning, the regime deployed the repressive bodies to dissolve the demonstrations: National Revolutionary Police, State security, border guard troops and other members of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior, some of whom were dressed in civilian clothes and carried sticks, stones and other instruments to attack the population . There were also deployments of dozens of soldiers from the Special Brigades, known as “black berets”, who carried long weapons and dogs.
In the Habana, Spanish photographer Ramón Espinosa, a reporter for the AP agency, was heavily attacked by the military and paramilitaries. Also in the country’s capital, the Rapid Response Brigades, armed and oriented by state security, rounded up peaceful protesters, whom they called “worms”, “mercenaries” and other labels of hatred.
“I want to live in a free Cuba”
«I am here because I am Cuban and I am tired of so much misery, of so much repression. It is not only the work that they put us through, it is also the humiliation, because they constantly humiliate us. I don’t want to leave Cuba, I want to live in a free Cuba (…). Nobody pays us, they (those who repress us), they do pay them, they are agents, they pay them a salary for doing that (…). We are asking for freedom for Cuba, end hunger, repression, dictatorship, no more misery»Declared one of the young protesters in Old Havana. Moisés, another participant, explained: “I am Cuban, I love my country above all else, and we are here peacefully. They have beaten, they have sprayed pepper, they have mistreated women and old women ».
Dozens of people have been arrested across the country; among them are journalists Iris Mariño, from Camagüey, and Orelvis Cabrera, from Matanzas, who are unaccounted for. In the case of the detainees in the city of Cárdenas, according to the residents of that town, they are being held in a warehouse on the outskirts of the city.
The wave of massive demonstrations is unprecedented in the country. The last one to occur on the island was in August 1994, in Havana, known as the “Maleconazo”, but it was quickly dissolved. In recent months there have been small protests in some localities of the country, mainly after November 27, 2020, when dozens of artists, intellectuals and citizens protested in front of the Ministry of Culture of Cuba (MINCULT), in Havana, to demand greater freedoms and an end to repression. Although that day the Cuban regime promised to dialogue with the citizenry, in less than 24 hours it began to break those promises and, in less than a week, it closed the dialogue channel. A new protest would take place in front of the MINCULT, on January 27, 2021, which was dispelled by blows.
The Island is currently experiencing its worst health and economic crisis. Daily, Thousands of new COVID-19 positive cases are reported and deaths, several hospitals are collapsed and patients do not even have access to necessary medications. Added to this are shortages, long power outages, inflation, growing social discontent, and a future that offers little or no hope of improvement.
In exile, hundreds of Cubans also demonstrated this Sunday in different nations to support those who did so within Cuba. Several international organizations also spoke out. José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, published several Tweets in support of Cubans: “Thousands of Cubans want to live better and with basic freedoms. Faced with this fair claim, it seems that, once again, Díaz-Canel is only capable of responding with repression. (…) Many are tired of the abuses of the regime and have already lost their fear. We demand that their human rights be respected. “