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Cuba: Tactics of repression must not be repeated

Following a new wave of island-wide protests in Cuba over the past several days, there are worrying indicators that the authorities are repeating the repressive tactics they used for decades and also during the crackdown on protesters on 11 July last year, said Amnesty International today.

“In the latest wave of protests that have lasted several days, Cubans are exercising their simple but historically repressed rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Alarmingly, it seems the authorities are repeating the tactics of repression they used last year to detain and silence protesters, hundreds of whom remain in prison,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“The international community must condemn the cycles of repression we are seeing in Cuba in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable for authorities to keep intimidating, threatening, detaining, stigmatizing, and attempting to silence anyone who demands necessities like electricity, food, and freedom.”

Since the start of protests in late September, Amnesty International has received reports of on-going internet interference, deployment of police and military, including cadets, to repress the protests, and arbitrary detentions.

Starting on the evening of 29 September, the Cuban authorities appear to have intentionally shut down internet access throughout the country. The internet outage lasted for at least two consecutive nights.

Cuban authorities control the country’s only telecommunication network and have often restricted internet access during politically sensitive times or moments of protests.

Alarmingly, it seems the authorities are repeating the tactics of repression they used last year to detain and silence protesters, hundreds of whom remain in prison.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

Amnesty International has heard that the latest internet outages have made it hard for families to communicate following the passage of hurricane Ian, at a time when many people have had their homes damaged. They have also impacted the ability of independent human rights observers, including Amnesty International, and independent journalists to document the human rights situation in the country. Journalist Luz Escobar told Amnesty International that her internet was cut three nights in a row, impacting her ability to work, and that as of 4 October, several other journalists working at her independent online newspaper, 14 y medio, were without internet.

Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab has also analysed several videos that did not appear online before these protests. One video which Amnesty International analysed was filmed on Street 41, at the corner of 66 in Havana, Cuba, and appears to show the deployment of plain-clothed military cadets, armed with baseball bats, chanting pro-government slogans, including “I am Fidel.”

Another video, which also first appeared online in the context of the protests, and which is consistent with other videos Amnesty International has verified from the protests, appears to also show cadets with baseball bats chasing and then detaining protesters.

The Cuban authorities have developed a sophisticated machinery for controlling any form of dissent and protest, as previously documented by Amnesty International. While state security officials often carry out surveillance and arbitrary detentions of critics, the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (local members of the Communist Party who collaborate with state officials and law enforcement agencies) also provide the state with information about, what is considered,  “counter-revolutionary activity.” “Acts of repudiation” – demonstrations led by government supporters with the alleged participation of state security officials – are also commonplace and aimed at harassing and intimidating government critics.

While communication with Cuba remains stunted due to internet interference, Justicia J11, a group established following the crackdown on protesters in July 2021 – has reported 26 detentions since 30 September, mostly of young people and artists, 19 of whom they reported remained in detention as of 4 October 2022.

Cuban authorities criminalized nearly all those who participated in the protests in July 2021, including some children, but flatly denied any human rights violations, and placed the blame for the economic situation almost exclusively on the US economic embargo. Similarly, on 2 October 2022, President Díaz-Canel downplayed the widespread nature of the latest protests and suggested that a minority of “counter-revolutionaries” with connections outside Cuba, had carried out “acts of vandalism such as blocking roads or throwing rocks” and would be dealt with with the “force of the law.”

Background

Following the passage of hurricane Ian, the electricity has been cut in multiple parts of the island, adding to the frequent electricity outages in recent months. NASA night-time light data showed a significant decrease in lights between 23 September, before the passing of Ian, and after, on 30 September.

Electricity outages have exacerbated violations of economic and social rights in the country, as in recent months Cubans have had to line up for many hours to buy food and other necessities, in the context of widespread food shortages.

The recent protests have occurred just 14 months after the similar widespread protests on 11 July 2021, which were followed by a crackdown on dissent. Hundreds remain imprisoned for the 11 July protests, including three prisoners of conscience: artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez, as well as leader of the non-official opposition, José Daniel Ferrer García. Other prisoners of conscience named by Amnesty International at the time were released on the condition of going into exile.