Thousands of people across the island paraded in the streets in several cities on July 11, calling for democracy and sweeping economic reforms in the country amidst food and drug shortages.
Dozens of people have been arrested by plainclothes police and many families say they still have not heard from their loved ones or have not been informed of their fate.
Sky News is unable to independently verify the figures for the missing, but the Cubalex lawyer group says hundreds of people, many of them teenagers, have been arrested.
Katiuska Mustelier Sosa is a Cuban exile living in Miami and says her brother, Enrique, has not been seen by friends or family on the island since he took part in a protest at Guantanamo.
Katiuska shared a video with Sky News, filmed by another protester, showing Enrique, 38, walking the streets chanting “libertine! Meaning freedom.
She believes he was arrested soon after and is currently being held in a state security prison, although she is not sure where.
“My family couldn’t see it. We are very worried because we do not know what condition he is in, ”she said. “We are afraid he has been beaten.”
The family fear history will repeat itself as 14 years ago Katiuska’s father, a political prisoner, disappeared from prison with only two months remaining. She moved to Miami four years ago, but two of her three children, Sarai, 11, and Daniel, 15, remain in Cuba.
“It’s better for me to be here so that I can send money and they can eat,” she said, “I’m very worried about my brother – but I’m also worried about my family and my children too. They ‘they are very scared, they say’ mom, we are afraid that you will say too much over there, and then we will not be able to see you again ‘. They are really scared, because the regime is capable of doing anything they want against us, for sure.
“I think it’s the start of an uprising, but I know it won’t be easy. Because this government – this dictatorship – will not give up power, ”she added. “For this reason, we need international help and support. “
Janniset Rivero, spokesperson for the Washington DC-based Center for a Free Cuba, estimates more than 500 protesters are missing and says many have been convicted in helpless summary trials. “It’s much more than that because they continue to arrest people now,” she said, “in Cuba there is no rule of law. These trials are illegal and the families have not even been able to see the defendants.
“The regime is afraid of the people because people have taken to the streets to cry out for freedom, so now they are trying to exercise control over the people.
The Cuban government says there is a campaign of disinformation around the protests.
Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, director general of the US division of the Cuban foreign ministry, said the summary trials that protesters are undergoing in Cuba are not unfair and that they benefit from a lawyer.
“It is part of the Cuban criminal system as it is part of the criminal system of many countries,” he said, “and there is nothing unfair or extraordinary about it. This is one of the many lies that are being broadcast in Cuba. “
In Little Havana, the heart of Miami’s Cuban community, they witnessed unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the Communist government, but many believe this time is different. Ramon Saul Sanchez left Cuba at age 12 and dedicated his life to fighting the Miami government. He believes the use of social media with protesters filming and broadcasting online is a fundamental difference from previous uprisings.
“This is why the regime immediately cuts off the Internet when there is a revolt,” he said. “What they’re doing right now is slowing it down so that photos and videos can’t be sent that easily. If we had social media 20 years ago, what we saw today probably would have happened then. “
There have been no widespread protests in Cuba since July 11, and Sanchez believes that even if people may not take to the streets today or tomorrow, they will eventually. “I now think I can return to Cuba in my lifetime,” he said.