Cuba’s historic protests, the role of artists and diaspora solidarity

On this Tuesday, July 20, episode of Sundial

Over the past week, Cuba has seen some of the biggest political protests since the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

Protests and anxiety over the country’s future have spread to South Florida, where thousands took to the streets and organized efforts to get aid into the country – a difficult feat.

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Cuban artists, musicians, writers and academics have been at the forefront of calls for “Libertad” or “freedom”. This is called the San Isidro Movement, which pushed the culture and the language around the resistance.

It also stirs up political pressure in the United States and around the world.

President Biden plans announced on Monday examining remittances and the U.S. Embassy in Havana – raising questions about the role the U.S. government should play.

Sundial brought together a panel of speakers to discuss the situation in Cuba.

The panel included:

  • Danny Rivero, WLRN reporter.
  • Nora Gamez Torres, reporter for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.
  • Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, head of the Cuban Democratic Directory and the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance.
  • Alejandro de la Fuente, director of the African-Latin American Research Institute at Harvard University.
  • Vanessa Garcia, Miami-based writer and playwright, works directly with Cuban artists.
  • Guennady Rodriguez, editor of the blog and local political podcast 23yFlagler.
  • And Dianne, who led the donation efforts to ensure that Cubans on the island had internet and phone access. We do not use his last name to protect his safety and livelihood, as well as that of his family.

This excerpt from the conversation has been edited for clarity.

Historic protests calling for change in Cuba

RIVERO: There have always been small protests, small groups of dissidents who have always been present since the Cuban revolution came to power. And the last big one, if you can call it that, was in 1994 in Havana. They call it the Maleconazo. It was a big deal, but it was only in Havana.

So these things have arisen in small towns and in big cities, but never at the same time. And what we saw last week was because of social media, because the people of San Antonio de los Baños (southwest of Havana) started broadcasting live when there was a march. in this city. Cubans are now connected to the Internet; the government allowed cell phone connections to the Internet about two years ago. So now a lot of people are connected and they started to see it and then go out on the streets of their own city. We’ve never seen anything like this happen before.

GAMEZ TORRES: They delayed, as much as they could, the introduction of Internet service in Cuba. That’s the first thing, you know, it was years and years and the Cubans were isolated. They weren’t connected. The problem for them was that they needed to connect to the international economy. And at one point, they had to provide internet service. So the service is coming back.

They still censor communication platforms like WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Facebook. But they have to provide the service because they now need it for their own economy. So they have a big problem. I understand that they censor, for example, the images of the demonstrations. If you try to send someone a video via WhatsApp of the protest, that person won’t get it. So in a way they’re trying to refine their own censorship tools.

GUTIERREZ-BORONAT: When we say intervention, we are very clear about what we are saying. We are facing a regime that has crushed uprisings throughout history in a very bloody way. It is a regime that has led the repression and crushing of popular movements in Nicaragua and Venezuela, even in Syria. So it’s a very bloody regime. It is a criminal regime. And we are afraid for the Cuban people. We are witnessing violence and hundreds of arrests. What we are saying is that no option should be ruled out when it comes to a plan like this. The strategic intervention, both humanitarian and military, of the United States in Bosnia, Serbia and Libya was essential to protect the peaceful protests against the regime.

And the other thing I also want to say: it’s a moment of unity in the community. And I see Cubans from all parties, from all walks of life, unite to express their support for the demonstration in Cuba and to want them to be protected from the violence that is taking place and the disappearances that are happening. The vast majority of Cubans have left domestic politics behind. We are all united.

Historic protests calling for change in Cuba

Frontline artists

DE LA FUENTE: It’s no coincidence that the very anthem of dissent and protest in Cuba is now a hip-hop song with prominent musicians. Those participating from Cuba, Michael Osorbo and El Funky, both identify as hip-hop artists, as rap artists. But if you want to record the sounds of Cuban origin and the sounds of Cuban protest, over the past thirty years, hip-hop is the place to look. The kind of piece that the song “Patria y Vida” does with the official Revolution slogan is something hip-hop artists have done before.

GARCIA: Michael, who was mentioned, and Manuel Otero Alcantara, they’re both in jail. And it’s not just them. These are the ones we know. There are hundreds and hundreds of others who, for putting those words in a rap song or making an image that serves against the government, are completely watched both at home and on the streets. There is no feeling of privacy. There are intrusions, home invasions, imprisonments that occur. There are no human rights, certainly no artistic rights. But you cannot have artistic rights without human rights and freedom of expression. And none of that exists [in Cuba].

Frontline artists


The Diaspora in South Florida

RODRIGUEZ: I have been an activist against the current US policy towards Cuba because I believe it impoverishes the people and in fact makes it harder to achieve any kind of democratic norm. However, we must hold the Cuban government to account for what happened.

If we say that all the responsibility for what happens in Cuba is due to the embargo, then Washington rules Cuba, and the Cubans do not rule themselves. So there is a responsibility within the Cuban state and for the Cuban government because they have been able to do so many things, so many reforms.

For example, the protests are in part due to unfinished economic reform announced during the time of Raul Castro. People really complain because they don’t see any results. Yes, the embargo is there. The embargo is certainly causing great economic suffering to the Cuban people. But the main responsibility for not taking the appropriate measures, not doing the right thing, not following the recommendations of their own scientists, economists, sociologists – the only responsible is the Cuban government. I think it will help change the policy towards Cuba. But we cannot say that, for example, the limits on freedom of expression are due to the embargo.

DIANNE: I was recharging the phones of my family members in Cuba. They let me know they ran out of data very quickly because they were recording and trying to connect with others on the island to find out what was going on. It gave me the idea that probably a lot of other Cubans were running out of data and I wanted to connect them. And I felt like it was the only thing I could do.

We use a company called Cuba Messenger. They have an app, it’s very user-friendly. You sign up with your phone number, email, and credit card, then just add contacts to your profile and buy data from them. So for $ 22.99, we buy them five hundred Cuban pesos of talk time and two gigabytes of data. This can usually last them a few weeks depending on their use. But because most Cubans are on the streets and registering the protest, it wears off quite quickly.

Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to get the scale it has. I thought I could help 10 or 20 people and we have now made over 1000 phones in six days. There is the fear that the government is stalking us, but the fear does not outweigh the importance of what we do, so we must continue.

I had the chance to connect with many people reloading their data, activists, many families, many people are grateful. Many people share very sad stories. They tell me they can talk to their grandma who has COVID and [is] in a hospital bed. Things like that. They just want freedom. This is what they shout in the streets. They are not shouting “end the embargo”, they are shouting “freedom”. And at the end of the day, the United States cannot give them freedom. Cuba gives them freedom. It is for their country that they are fighting, that they want. So that’s the main message I’m hearing. They just want to live free to use their voice to be able to protest.

The Diaspora in South Florida


About Eleanor Blackburn

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