Cuba is cracking down on criticism. Yunior Garcia Aguilera says he will protest anyway


But Cuban officials are increasingly targeting Yunior Garcia Aguilera and his proposal to hold a peaceful political march later this month – for which the state has already denied permission.

“Cubans have spent too much time in silence,” Garcia Aguilera said in an interview in his cramped apartment in Havana’s deprived San Agustín neighborhood. “It’s time to open your mouth with freedom and speak our mind.”

Garcia Aguilera is not the typical Cuban anti-government dissident. He has worked for years in state-run theater and television productions, criticizes the US embargo on the island, and calls himself more liberal than Cuba’s “conservative” rulers. Cuban state media this week compared him to famous Czech playwright and human rights activist Vaclav Havel, although the description is not a compliment.

His planned march is intended to call for democratic reforms of the Caribbean nation’s political system, as well as the release of political prisoners. In response, the Cuban state targeted him with a series of accusations.

Cuban state television broadcast the recording of Garcia Aguilera’s personal phone calls and broadcast programs alleging obscure links between the playwright and dark forces allegedly determined to overthrow the more than six-decade-old Cuban revolution.

During a phone call, Garcia Aguilera can be heard having a superficial conversation with a well-known anti-Castro Cuban exile, Ramon Saul Sanchez, who offers his support to Garcia Aguilera. Cuban government officials treated the appeal as overwhelming evidence the playwright had contact with Cuban exiles in Florida, whom the government accuses of plotting terrorist attacks on the island.

And in a video released Monday on Cuba’s Reasons TV show, a local doctor by the name of Carlos Leonardo Vázquez González showed photos of a conference he said he attended with Garcia Aguilera and other critics of the Cuban government. in Madrid in 2019.

Garcia Aguilera at his home in Havana.

Vázquez González also said on the show that he was in fact a double agent, reporting to Cuban state security on Garcia Aguilera.

“What we see in Yunior is the creation and performance of a counterrevolutionary,” said Vázquez González.

Garcia Aguilera confirmed the authenticity of the phone call and the conference, but said they were distorted on television. He denies receiving any funding from foreign governments or exile groups and insists he is pushing for democratic change from Cuba using legal channels.

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To support his protest plan, Garcia Aguilera formed a group called Archipelago, which has more than 31,000 followers on Facebook. Members of the group say they too are harassed for their activism and complain of being followed by plainclothes state security agents and receiving threats from government officials.

Members also accuse the Cuban state-owned telecommunications provider of preventing Cubans from texting the Spanish word archipelago or the date of their planned protest – a long-established censorship tactic on the island. CNN has independently confirmed the email blocking.

In October, Garcia Aguilera posted photos on social media of the carcass, blood and feathers of a dead bird that spilled through the entrance to his apartment in the middle of the night – a bloody scene that he understood it as a warning to stop his activism.

He blamed the government for the vandalism, saying police guarding his home would have known who was responsible. Cuban officials have not responded to his allegations of harassment.

On Monday, Garcia Aguilera’s wife also filmed neighbors committing a nightly “act of repudiation” or “act of repudiation” – chanting government slogans at the couple’s door and “warning” them to stop his activism.

Nonetheless, Garcia Aguilera and a handful of other protest organizers say they intend to move forward with their planned march. They say they want the release of peaceful protesters arrested after the July 11 protests, more guarantees for individual freedoms and a lifting of official censorship.

View of empty streets of Havana, September 1, 2020.

A dangerous time to protest

Speaking out against the island’s communist government carries even greater risks than usual, after the state was rocked by widespread protests in July, increased U.S. economic sanctions and the implosion of their tourism industry during the pandemic.

According to the Cubalex group which monitors legal issues on the island, at least 1,175 Cubans were arrested following the July 11 protests, when dozens of people took to the streets to demand more freedoms and economic conditions. – the biggest demonstration to have taken place in Cuba since the 1959 revolution.

While government officials said they targeted protesters who attacked police and looted shops, dozens of people said they were violently arrested for marching peacefully or simply filming the protests.

Cubans march past the Capitol in Havana during a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana on July 11, 2021.

Government officials insist that the island’s constitution grants Cubans the right to demonstrate, but in practice, protests are quickly interrupted by police and government critics are accused of being “mercenaries” to the government. employment of the nemesis of the Cold War, the United States.

“It is not a crime to have different opinions, including political ones,” Rubén Remigio Ferro, president of Cuba’s Supreme People’s Court, told a press conference in July shortly after the protests. “Thinking differently, questioning what’s going on, protesting is not a crime.”

These comments indicating openness to some dissent are what inspired Garcia Aguilera and other members of the Archipelago group to demand peaceful marches in various towns on the island, the playwright told CNN.

The Cuban government, however, described the planned marches as a pretext invented by the Cuban exiles and the US government that would lead to an invasion of Cuba “by the enemy”. He announced island-wide military exercises for the same day.

“[The protest] promoters, their public projections and their links with subversive organizations or agencies funded by the US government have the open intention of changing the political system in our country, “Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said during a speech to the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, in October.

Already, Cuban state media have broadcast images of militias training with AK-47s and members of the “Committee for the Defense of the Revolution” patrolling the streets with metal batons.

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Garcia Aguilera has since moved the proposed march from November 20 to 15, although the Cuban government is unlikely to allow protesters to participate regardless of the date. He said the government’s overreaction to his proposed march only proved his point.

“They showed that there is no rule of law,” he said. “There is no possibility for citizens to legally, peacefully and orderly show their dissent to these powers.”

With so much tension in the air, it’s unclear how many Cubans will join Garcia Aguilera’s call to protest, but already the initiative threatens to further deteriorate unraveled relations between the United States and Cuba.

“The Cuban diet is failing to meet the most basic needs of the population. This includes food. It includes medicine. Now is a chance to listen to the Cuban people and make a positive change,” he said. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in October.

The Biden administration has warned the Cuban government that if it prevents the march from taking place, the island could face further economic sanctions.

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