The March for Change scheduled in Cuba for November 15 died before starting. There was neither march nor change. The Cuban government militarized the main cities of the country with thousands of policemen and state security agents dressed in civilian clothes. Police pressure deterred the protest.
The request for changes, for more freedoms, for the release of political prisoners, was also diluted because dozens of activists and journalists were besieged at their homes when not threatened or detained. Archipelago, the group that organized that march, affirms that some 100 activists were held in their homes, where they suffered constant acts of repudiation by revolutionary neighbors. Fear and police action minimized the protest, reduced to individual acts of those Cubans who showed their desire for change wearing white clothes or hanging sheets in the patios or windows of their houses.
On the other side, President Díaz-Canel boasted of the return to normality, with thousands of children returning to school and thousands of tourists returning to the island after a long year and a half of the pandemic. And he also boasted of another victory over America. Because for Havana there is no doubt that it is Washington who finances and organizes the organizers of the protest.
Illegal protest according to Cuban justice
The March for Change drowned for obvious reasons. The Cuban government did not want, again, dozens of thousands of citizens calling for reforms and freedom in the main cities of the country. I did not want another July 11, 2021. A day that will go down in history, because never before have so many people protested against the Government in the more than 60 years of the Revolution.
Because Cuban justice declared the protest illegal; That is why several official groups have been intimidating their organizers for weeks, starting with the playwright Yunior García Aguilera. Yunior is the man who, in mid-August, formally went to ask permission from the Cuban authorities to organize this peaceful protest of 15N.
Since then, he has been summoned to collect, in writing, the refusal to that march. And he has also been summoned, this time by the prosecution, to warn him of the crimes he would be committing if he organized or encouraged a demonstration prohibited in advance by State Security. Then came the acts of repudiation and threats in front of his house by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
Yunior is one of the protagonists of “After Fidel”, the report that this Wednesday premieres En Portada at 19:00 on RTVE Play and at 00:15, on La 2. We will know his story and that of other Cubans who were born ago a little more than 30 years, and that they have lived through the hardest part of the Revolution: the one that came with the end of Soviet aid after the collapse of the USSR.
“After Fidel”, a tale in two voices
Five years after the death of Fidel Castro, we have spoken in depth with two Cuban journalists on the figure of Fidel, on his legacy, on the validity of the Revolution, and on the weight and shadow of the Castros on the figure of the new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel. We have talked about that and about daily life in Cuba today, where the new pressures have triggered the citizen protest.
Waldo Fernández and Cristina Escobar are the axes of the report. They both have a lot in common: they were born and raised in Cuba, they are journalists and are barely over thirty. They shared a classroom at the Faculty of Journalism of the University of Havana. But then they went their own professional and ideological path. Cristina works in Cuban television; Waldo, in an independent medium: Diario de Cuba. One, fidelista and revolutionary; another, a convinced anti-Castro.
His story in two voices traces the portrait of a country where shortages, shortages and blackouts they have raised the level of political tension to levels few remember. Above all, because the diagnosis is different. Official Cuba blames the pandemic, the reduction in income due to the country’s closure to tourism and, of course, the US embargo on Cuba, hardened by the 243 measures approved by Donald Trump before leaving the Oval Office, and that Joe Biden keeps current. Critical Cuba points directly to the inefficiency of a state that imports almost 70% of what it consumes when almost half of its land is very fertile to cultivate.
How did we get here? Cuba and the president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, have suffered, like everyone else, the effects of the pandemic. The coronavirus forced to close the country to tourism. And tourism is Cuba’s second source of income. Only in 2019 he left about three billion dollars on the island. And it was only this Monday, November 15, when José Martí International Airport has begun to regain its pulse and to receive tourists.
Eternal queues to get food and medicine
The damage has been enormous. Cuban GDP decreased 11% last year and this year it will barely grow 2%. The impact of the pandemic on the already depleted Cuban economy has increased social unrest over the past year. Cubans queue eternally in search of food and medicine that they cannot always find. And that explosive cocktail exploded in summer and has had another reply attempt on November 15.
“When you no longer have anything to lose,” Waldo Fernández affirms in After Fidel, “then you lose your fear.” Cristina Escobar understands popular discontent at a very critical moment, where hardships are spent in every home. But he adds that these marches are not innocent, but are orchestrated: “There were reasons to go out, yes. There is a lot of exhaustion from the high cost of living, from the shortage of medicines, from the deterioration of the health system. But there is also a level of push from social media in an increasingly connected country, there is a campaign that tries – now that it is in crisis – to shoot the people against their own people ”. Escobar repeats the government’s mantra: everything is orchestrated and financed from abroad, it is the United States that is financing these protests to achieve a change of government in Cuba.
Díaz-Canel, in short, ran into the perfect storm: COVID-19, the country’s closure to tourism, the eternal queues to get food and medicine, continuous blackouts and a part of the population fed up with a chronic shortage. And here we enter another debate: the legitimacy of the first civilian who accumulates all the positions of power in Cuba without having fought in the Sierra Maestra. Waldo Fernández hated Fidel, but acknowledges that many Cubans “forgave” him his problems because of who he was: the father of the Revolution.
“Raúl Castro was also given a blank check,” adds Cristina Escobar, “but I have the impression that Díaz-Canel was not.” And according to the Cuban journalist, that is the president’s greatest challenge: “to promote the values of the Revolution and build a better, more inclusive country, in which people do not have to think that the only way to be happy is to emigrate”.
Internet, key in the protests
Be that as it may, the post-Fidel generation, the Castroist and the non-revolutionary, today have a fundamental tool for the dissemination of any initiative: the internet. Mobile data arrived in Cuba at the end of 2018. They are really expensive for the average salary of a Cuban. But they are the escape route that many citizens have found to find out beyond the official line. And in summer they played a fundamental role in the spread of protests: “I found out about the first protest, in San Antonio de los Baños, through social networks,” Waldo recalls. And I decided to go down to the streets, not as a journalist, but as a citizen ”. Escobar, who works in Cuban television, recognizes that it is impossible for Gramma and the rest of the official media to maintain a monopoly on information in Cuba.
In fact, they don’t maintain it. This November 14, Yunior García wanted to protest alone, dressed in white and carrying a flower, from his house to a point on the Malecón in Havana. State security blocked his home and covered his window with a giant national flag. Yunior recorded a video telling everything. That video is so viral that this act of repudiation led to a huge propaganda campaign. And not precisely in favor of the Government or of those who tried to silence his voice by locking him up at home.