“I’m surprised it took so long”: Cubans find anger in their souls

“I’m surprised it took so long”: Cubans find anger in their souls

There is a government man playing love songs in the park. Orlando Fuentes has a table, an awning against the harsh Caribbean sun and a sound system from which Silvio Rodríguez’s Cita con Ángeles floats. Woman says she can’t listen, it’s a beautiful song wasted because it’s played at too many government gatherings.

After 16 months of pandemic and a week of unprecedented protests, the Cuban government wants to allay the anger. Music is played in parks across the country.

“I call for solidarity and not to let hatred invade the Cuban soul, which is a soul of kindness, affection and love,” Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel tweeted.

Just days before, he had called on his supporters to take to the streets to confront those protesting over food and medicine shortages, rising prices and power cuts that lasted for hours, people he had qualified as “vulgar, indecent and delinquent”.

The protests began last Sunday in the town of San Antonio de los Baños, on the outskirts of Havana. Residents complained of power cuts lasting more than eight hours.

Videos of people chanting “libertad” (freedom) quickly spread on social networks, on a mobile Internet that Cubans have only been allowed to use for three years. Protests erupted across the length and breadth of the island. Police cars were overturned and stones were thrown. Some of the hated MLC stores – where basic necessities are sold only in foreign currency – have been looted.

Hundreds of arrests have been made, often documented in poignant videos. Nothing like this had been seen in Cuba since the 1959 revolution, shaking the people and the government. Raúl Castro, Fidel’s 90-year-old brother who retired as first secretary of the Communist Party last April, has returned to council.

Meanwhile, across the Straits of Florida, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has suggested the US government consider airstrikes.

Ana, a museum curator in her twenties, does not want to give her real name. She was at home in her neighborhood on 10 de Octubre last Sunday when she heard a noise. “Outside, people in my neighborhood were claiming their rights,” she told me. It was around 3 p.m.

Police cars overturned on the streets in Havana during the protests. Photography: Yamil Lage / AFP / Getty

“There were 60 of us when we left,” she said. “There were police officers but everything was peaceful. People were saying “we want medicine, we want food”. We walked towards the center, about 7 km. People had left without water, without money, without their identity papers.

Ana reached El Capitolio, the sprawling building on the outskirts of Old Havana that is a copy of the United States Capitol. There, she says, she met the police in large numbers: “We also felt the presence of the rapid intervention brigades. They are part of state security but are dressed as civilians. They were the first to provoke.

She pushed towards the Malecón, the ledge of Havana. “There, we faced the special brigades, the special repression units. Near the Museum of the Revolution, there were masses of people disguised as civilians with sticks in their hands. She estimated the number of protesters at 2,000. “There was pepper spray. There was a lot of violence. “

In every Cuban kitchen there is a pressure cooker. This is how the people make their basic rice and beans. Most are old and worn out – everyone knows how dangerous they are.

Five years ago, Barack Obama tried to ease the pressure in Cuba and sweep away what he called the “last vestiges” of the Cold War. He got off Air Force One at Havana airport, asking: “¿Que bolá Cuba? – What’s up Cuba? He reopened the US embassy, ​​but pulled the limit to end a 60-year embargo that Cubans call “El bloqueo”.

His successor took a different approach. Donald Trump banned cruise ships from visiting, sued companies that traded with the island, put Cuba back on a list of states sponsoring terrorism, and most importantly, hampered the diaspora’s ability to return money to their families.

Cuba, meanwhile, is collapsing. After 62 years of revolution, farmland has returned to the bush, the sugar factories are metal frames, the railroads are rusting. It still has its legendary school system, arts and health service, but all exist in a declining infrastructure starved for money and technology.

Boosted by Obama’s detente, but having lost the financial support of Venezuela, the Cuban communist leaders bet on tourism. An economic wing of the army has built a large number of hotels. But then the pandemic struck and the economy contracted by 11% in 2020.

The state refuses to cede control of imports and exports, now more concerned with the destabilizing effect of American capital than with any invasion. The problem is that without tourists, the government cannot pay its bills overseas, so there is not enough food entering the country.

Cuba has created its own vaccines against Covid but the virus is now raging among the population. Medicines are exchanged on WhatsApp and Telegram groups. Sixty vitamin C tablets cost $ 32, although the price depends on people’s access to US dollars or euros. The poorest, on the wrong side of a black currency market, pay the most. Bulletin boards are heartbreaking. Recently, a young woman asked what she needed to stop the production of milk from her breasts: her baby had died from Covid.

When asked about the protests, almost all observers in Cuba respond, as Canadian lawyer and long-time resident Gregory Biniowsky said: “Truly, I’m surprised it took so long.

Wimar Verdecia is a designer and graphic designer. He attended a demonstration last November which, while bringing together only 300 artists outside Cuba’s culture ministry, is now seen as a turning point in a country where such demonstrations are banned.

A demonstration against the Cuban government in New Jersey, United States on July 13. Photograph: Eduardo Muñoz / Reuters

He went to attend Sunday’s march, watching it pass by Centro Habana, struck but not surprised by the number of young participants. “All young people want to migrate because it is a country where there is no future, where we cannot think of a prosperous and dignified life. “

But the videos show that it was not just young people participating. Maykel’s editor-in-chief González Vivero, who said she was manhandled by police, wrote on Twitter “an elderly woman in her sixties … wiping the blood from her nose”.

Images of police dragging protesters by the necks shocked the country. Many demonstrators disappeared without a trace in police stations and interrogation centers. On Friday, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for the speedy release of all those detained.

Concerned about the videos circulating, the government cut the internet for much of the week, shows the injured in stone throwing and looting on television, and created a news segment devoted to the false rumors circulating. .

But state media have chosen not to show footage of the protesters unless windows are smashed or cars overturned. A group of protesters who showed up on the TV station to express their point of view were chased away by a chanting crowd.

Such a response led to a scathing response from several of Cuba’s most famous cultural figures. Leo Brouwer, Los Van Van, Haydée Milanés, Leoni Torres, Adalberto álvarez, Carlos Acosta all spoke. Members of the Elito Revé orchestra wrote: “Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.

In this country which takes immense pride in its arts, and whose artists are often silenced if they cross paths with the authorities, it was like another first in a week full of them.

On Thursday, Joe Biden finally weighed in. He called Cuba a “failed state” and made it clear that he would not follow Obama’s example.

In the past, during times of great difficulty on the island, say after the collapse of its sponsor, the Soviet Union, the Cubans invaded the northern United States. Alejandro Mayorkas, the US Secretary of Homeland Security, threw down the idea last week, saying those who took to sea would be sent back.

It looks like the United States is sticking to Trump’s plan. “What do they really want? Asks Carlos Alzugaray, former Cuban Ambassador to the EU. “Do they want big riots and the collapse of the Cuban government? Do they really want this? What happens next? “

What is certain is that Obama’s detente is really dead. In the 10 de Octubre neighborhood, Ana avoids the police, even though she says she hasn’t done anything wrong. “I have a cousin who for 72 hours we didn’t know where he was. Yesterday we learned that he is in prison, charged with inciting public unrest. She says there are still a lot of people missing. “I have to be careful because the police have come here several times. I don’t have a criminal record so I don’t know why they came.

No one knows what’s coming next, or at least no one I’ve spoken to. Instead, they spoke of the fear and sadness in the country. When asked, people would shake their heads and say “it’s too much” or even start to cry.

In the park, Orlando Fuentes told me he was there, playing music, to “remind people that we are here”. He meant the government. Silvio Rodríguez, Cuba’s greatest troubadour, always sang: “Guardian angels steal, always jealous of their wishes, against abuse and excess.


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