Cuba president appeals to public as dissidents say mass anti-government protests about much more than COVID
©Wikimedia (Thomassin Mickaël)
Cuba president appeals to public as dissidents say mass anti-government protests about much more than COVID

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez and government officials delivered a 2.5-hour televised address Monday calling on civilians to resist weekend mass protests in the country by use of physical force, effectively calling for civil war. Late Monday, former JURIST Associate Editor and current Miami-based Cuban lawyer Daniela Carmona provided JURIST with an exclusive perspective on the apparently spontaneous demonstrations a day after thousands of Cubans took to the streets.

Unauthorized public gatherings are illegal in Cuba under the country’s Penal Code, and protests of this scale have not occurred since mass demonstrations in Havana in 1994, when Fidel Castro’s military met Cubans with violence for attempting to escape by boat due to economic and social suffering. This week’s protests may have been triggered by citizens’ lack of access to medical care and poor handling of the global pandemic, but they are the result of civil and economic discontent that has been mounting in Cuba for decades.

JURIST spoke Tuesday with a Cuban native who requested anonymity due to concerns for the safety of the family members. Our source described the situation as follows:

You always work with the government there. Private businesses are not that many. My nephew, he was called by the manager of the place where he works and he was told [to fight protesters]. You could say the principal of the institution where he works … Most of the people don’t go, but it is the way they act … If you say no many times, you could be in trouble for sure. If you say you don’t want to go, they can expel you from your job. If you are not with them, they will say you don’t have the qualifications.

By threatening Cubans’ jobs, the government can persuade some citizens to fight. However, our source tells us that most people lie about having a sick relative so they do not have to fight. In light of this, Cuban military and police have masqueraded as regular civilians in an attempt to make it seem as though more civilians are helping the government than is the reality.

They made the military to dress as civilians. They go and trap people, and it is very evident that those are not people from the streetsthey are army or police. They want people to think citizens are committed to the government … but to go against your own people, that is not moral. That’s not honest.

I was born in 1959, and the government has always acted this way. When Fidel Castro took the government, Cuba was a prosperous country. A few years after taking government, Cuba was set back 10 or 20 years behind … They don’t care about the people. I am so frustrated with what is happening right now, and the government, they will not leave. The only way they will leave is to try to fight [to demand that the President steps down]. They are fighting for their lives now.

When asked what readers need to understand the most, our contact said it is the “lies” spread by Cuba’s government.

The government says they don’t have food and they don’t have medicine because of the embargo, but that is not true. It is because the government does not pay the US. I am very sad, and I wish the government would just leave the country … They never care about people, they only care about themselves and having the control.

Our source tells JURIST that the Cuban government is letting their people suffer and starve, and they are left to die, so the government can continue to try to perpetuate these lies.

Violence is escalating this week. Many Cubans are said to be fed up with what they consider authoritarian oppression and are desperate to ensure that their decades of suffering are properly understood. According to our contact, Cuba has historically barred communication with the outside world in attempts to censor its people. “There were a lot of years where people were not allowed to go to any institutions. No hotels, not any hotels. They were only for tourists, and Cubans were not even allowed to set foot inside hotels [for fears they would communicate with tourists].”

Cuba had also limited citizens’ access to communication channels such as the internet until recently, and the government has shut down internet access to silence the pleas of citizens this week. Cubans have been seeking help from world leaders and NGOs for years, and they are now asking the global community for support.