August 11, 2022
Reuters

Mass trials deepen Cuba’s crackdown on dissent – International

Demonstrators arrested in Cuba They face the largest and most punitive mass trials on the island since the early days of the revolution and face up to 30 years in prison.

Cuban prosecutors this week brought to trial more than 60 citizens accused of crimes, including sabotage, for their participation in Protests against the country’s economic crisis were held in July last year. The information comes from human rights activists and family members of detainees.

Of those prosecuted, at least five are minors, some as young as 16. They are among more than 620 detainees on trial or due to stand trial for their participation in the biggest outburst of popular discontent with the communist government since it came to power in 1959.

Activists said the severity of the criminal charges was part of a coordinated effort by the government to prevent further public expression of discontent. The repression dashed lingering hopes for a gradual liberalization under the president’s auspices. Miguel Diaz-Canel, which in 2018 replaced the place Raul Castro, brother FidelHe became the first Cuban leader outside the Castro family since 1959.

“What reigns here is the empire of fear,” said Daniel Triana, a Cuban actor and activist who was briefly detained after the protests. “Here, repression does not directly kill, but rather forces people to choose between imprisonment and exile.”

Cuba lived six decades under a punitive trade embargo imposed by it United State. The Cuban government has long blamed the growing weakness of the national economy solely on Washington, and has diverted attention from the effects of Havana’s mismanagement and the severe restrictions it imposes on private businesses.

Cuba exploded in unexpected protest on July 11, as thousands of people, many of them from the country’s poorest neighborhoods, marched in cities large and small to denounce rampant inflation, power cuts and the growing shortages of food and medicine.

Scenes of popular discontent have been widely shared on social media, and are in stark contrast to the notion promoted by the Cuban leadership that the population continues its unwavering support for the Communist Party, despite economic hardship.

Initially surprised, the government later responded with the biggest crackdown in decades, sending in military units to crush the protests. More than 1,300 protesters have been arrested, according to human rights organization Cubalex and J11 Justice Entity, which bring together Cuban civil society organizations and monitor what happened after the protests.

The scale of the government’s reaction shocked opposition figures and longtime observers in Cuba.

Cuban leaders have always responded quickly to any public discontent, arresting protesters and cracking down on dissent. But previous waves of repression have tended to be focused against relatively small groups of political activists.

In contrast, historians and activists say, the mass trials that began in December targeted, for the first time in decades, people who in most cases had had no previous involvement in politics before leaving their homes to join the crowds calling for the changes.

Cuban dissident Martha Beatrice Roque, who was convicted in 2003 of vandalism along with 74 other activists, commented, “This is something completely new here,” and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His sentence and that of the other detainees was eventually commuted, and most were able to go into exile.

“Not a single drop of sympathy remains, and that’s what makes the difference” about the past, she said, speaking on the phone from her home in Havana.

Welder Yusfani Garcia, 33, has not participated in any protests or had trouble with the law, according to his wife, Milen Rodriguez. On July 11, as usual, he left his workshop in the provincial capital Holguín to eat lunch at home.

But his wife said that on his way back to work, Garcia encountered a crowd of people calling for political change. Motivated by discontent with the unsustainable cost of living, Garcia joined the march.

He was beaten by the police, who broke up the demonstration later that day, but returned home that night. Four days later, police surrounded him near his home and took him to prison.

On Wednesday, the 12th, Garcia was criminally charged with vandalism along with 20 other protesters. Among the accused are five teenagers aged between 17 and 16, which is the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Cuba. All face prison sentences of up to five years; Garcia can be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.

Roland Castillo was 17 in July when he was arrested for participating in a protest in a working-class suburb of Havana. A regional wrestling champion, one of Cuba’s most popular sports, Castillo attended a public sports academy and, according to his mother, Yudinilla Castro, never participated in political activities.

Castro said he only learned that his son had participated in the demonstration when police arrived to arrest him a few days later. Prosecutors want him to be sentenced to 23 years in prison for subversion.

The arrival of Díaz-Canel to the presidency of Díaz-Canel, in 2018, initially raised hopes in some sectors of the possibility of gradual changes in the country.

Díaz-Canel was not part of the old guard that came to power with the Castro brothers. The president, tried to purge Cuba’s complex monetary system and launched reforms to expand the private sector, in an effort to ease the severe economic crisis caused by the pandemic, the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, and the decline in aid from Venezuela. Cuba’s socialist ally.

But Díaz-Canel, born after the revolution, could not invoke the struggle of the Castro brothers against imperialism to justify the continuing decline in living standards in Cuba. When the protests broke out, he reacted forcefully.

“They have no intention of changing,” said Salome Garcia, an activist with the human rights group Justice J11. They do not intend to allow Cuban society any role in determining its own destiny.”