The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called Friday for the immediate release of Cuban protesters and journalists who are being held by authorities in the aftermath of some of the largest protests Cuba has seen in decades.
On July 11, thousands of Cuban citizens took to the streets to express their disapproval of the Cuban government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and to demand access to basic supplies like food and water. The protest was the largest protest that Cuba has seen since the 1994 protests.
Cuba does not have adequate resources to deal with the pandemic. According to Cuban lawyer Daniela Carmona, “The hospitals are collapsed, there is no food, no medicine, no ambulances to transport persons to the hospitals.” She says that this is caused, at least in part, by failures of the Cuban government to adequately provide for their citizens: “[People] died in their houses waiting for an ambulance. And the thing is that most Cubans do not have cars. The government does not sell cars to Cubans. They depend on the Government and the Government just doesn’t care about the people.” Although many Cuban citizens blame their government for mishandling the crisis, others, including members of the Communist Party, blame the United States for its embargoes that have continued since the Cold War.
The Cuban police responded with force against the demonstrators and detained a number of protestors and journalists, some of whom are still being held incommunicado. At least one protester was killed during the protests.
Bachelet asked that the Cuban Government engage in peaceful dialogue with its citizens and to respect their rights to peaceful demonstration, saying:
I am very concerned at the alleged use of excessive force against demonstrators in Cuba and the arrest of a large number of people, including several journalists…. It is particularly worrying that these include individuals allegedly held incommunicado and people whose whereabouts are unknown. All those detained for exercising their rights must be promptly released.
Bachelet also expressed dismay that a protestor lost his life, saying, “it is important that there be an independent, transparent, effective investigation, and that those responsible are held accountable.” Bachelet called for a peaceful resolution to the situation and full restoration of the internet and social media, both of which were partially suspended by the Cuban Government after the protests.