Our Voices

Repression in Cuba: First year anniversary of the July 11th protests

One year ago, the Cuban population took to the streets to protest the increasingly deteriorating socio-economic and institutional conditions in the country. Cubans, both in Cuba and around the world, protested the authoritarian regime, the undermining of civil liberties and fundamental rights, as well as the profound socio-economic crisis worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s mismanagement of the public health emergency in the country. The country had not experienced this kind of social protests since the early 1990’s during the “Maleconazo” where protesters also voiced demands for freedom. These new waves of protests in 2021 were led by everyday citizens, activists, academics, students, and journalists, and became one of the most significant events in recent Cuban history.

The Cuban government responded to the protests by systematically repressing peaceful protesters, which resulted in the arbitrary detention and judicialization of hundreds of Cubans. The crackdown on protests did not only serve to punish those who participated in them, but also as a deterrent to the broader population, and particularly to those who may intend to take part in public demonstrations against the government in the future.

The use of repression to dissuade the peaceful protests was not an isolated event. On the contrary, it occurred within the general context of the closing of civic space in Cuba, through the systematic repression of civil liberties and criminalization of dissent. This context has worsened in the country over the years, and civil society organizations have been one of the main targets of this persecution, resulting in the restriction of their work by the use of factual and legal measures, such as the constant obstacles for organizations to register, as well as a wide range of offenses established in the Cuban penal code meant to restrict fundamental freedoms and civic space.

Cubalex, a national human rights organization, is an emblematic case that illustrates the Cuban government’s criminalization of civil society. Cubalex is one of the country’s most important organizations, as it has assisted and represented, at the national and international levels, victims of gross human rights violations. However, due to their work, over the years, members of the organization have been targeted by the government and have been subjected to threats, arbitrary detentions, abuse, and intimidation due to their work. This, in turn, has generated the exile of members of Cubalex and other civil society organizations.

In this context, social leaders have also been historically targeted by the Cuban government due to their activism in the country. Cases like Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero’s executions by State agents in 2012, demonstrate the lengths to which the regime is ready to go in order to shut down critical voices and dissidents that could potentially risk its permanence in power.

On the first anniversary of July 11th, over 700 people who participated in the peaceful protests continue to be arbitrarily detained; some have already been sentenced to years in prison after being subjected to sham trials without any respect to their due process, including the right to be judged by an independent judiciary. During this time, their families have reported the lack of a fair trial and other human rights abuses against the victims while under custody, including torture and cruel and inhuman treatment. Some of the families have even reported threats and acts of intimidation for making public calls and demanding the freedom of their family members. Regardless of the dire situation, they continue to advocate for their loved ones and for those who continue to face abuse and arbitrary detention for dissenting and speaking out.

Cuba continues to be immersed in a profound socio-economic crisis, while the government continues to further restrict the exercise of fundamental freedoms; thus, the criminalization of social protest continues today and is likely to worsen in the future. Numerous international mechanisms for the protection of human rights have continuously called for an end to the persecution, criminalization and State violence in Cuba. In this sense, the role of the international community, including countries committed to the strengthening of democracy in the region, remains critical to achieve some measure of truth, justice, and accountability, as well as effective reparations for the victims.