Cuba’s Year of Protests – What You Need to Know

Today marks one year since the start of the biggest public demonstrations in Cuba for decades. Demonstrations were unthinkable just one year ago. What happened, and what are the hopes of democracy for the Cuban people?

The Start of the Protests

On November 27, 2020, more than 200 artists gathered outside the Ministry of Culture to protest intensified repression against artists, and to demand their right to freedom of expression. The demonstration started in solidarity with the San Isidro Movement (MSI), a movement made up of independent artists. MSI represents a young generation tired of the situation on the island, with new ways of protesting and demanding democracy in their country. 

The day before the protests MSI had been expelled from their headquarters and detained by the police after starting a hunger strike to demand the release of rapper Denis Solís, sentenced to eight months in jail for contempt. 

The sit-in lasted from Friday morning until the early hours of Saturday, November 28, after the protesters reached preliminary agreements with the Cuban government. 

The Biggest Protests in Decades

In February of the following year, 2021, the song “Patria y Vida” (homeland and life) was released. The song has become an anthem for protesters, representing the discontent and hope of the entire country. Its reproduction has been banned in Cuba and several people have been arrested for using its slogans, including rapper Maykel Castillo “Osorbo”, a collaborator on the song. Osorbo is still imprisoned

On July 11 (11J), thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the country in a massive demonstration shouting “freedom” and “Patria y Vida”. A gigantic social outbreak that had not been seen on the island for decades. The protests were the response to a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Response From Authorities 

On July 11 and the following days about 1200 people were detained throughout the country, more than 500 of which are still detained according to Cubalex’s registry. Among them are still children and minors. As of November 22, the mothers of 4 minors still detained since the 11J protests began a hunger strike demanding that their children be set free. 
The authorities have also responded by limiting internet and cellular communications.  Netblocks confirmed the partial disruption of social media and messaging platforms on the island from July 12-18. 

#15N Protests Shut Down

The citizen initiative Archipelago planned for new protests on November 20. The government responded by organizing military exercises for that day. Archipelago then moved the date of the protests to November 15 and requested permission to carry out the march in different municipalities of the country. A planned dissident march that had not been seen on the island in more than 50 years. 

As the date approached, repression increased. During the day of the protests, many activists all over the island woke up to police outside their doors, preventing them from going out. The government had also mobilized citizens in so-called “Rapid response brigades”, that were gathering in the streets armed with clubs and sticks to fight potential protesters. 

Hopes For the Future 

One year after the Cuban awakening, people are more organized to fight for change. Despite the heavy persecution of protesters and dissidents, the images of massive protests have filled Cubans with hope. But they also need support from the outside world. The international community must join the Cuban people’s call for a democratisation of Cuba. 

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