Cuba democracy protests thwarted after rallies banned and leaders arrested

Cuban authorities have snuffed out protests planned by activists to call for nationwide demonstrations for democracy and more freedom of expression.

After being caught off guard by unprecedented protests in July, the government acted in advance to ban the demonstrations planned for Monday, ran a media campaign arguing it was a US attempt at regime change, and placed protest leaders under house arrest.

Edel Pérez, 35, a television actor arrested in the July protests, was prevented from leaving his house by two plain-clothed state security agents. “I feel impotent and angry,” he said. “They are violating my constitutional rights.”

Cubans posted videos of arrests on Facebook, while activists who dared to go out were driven away in police cars, and others were bundled into vans. “Acts of repudiation”, in which government supporters shout revolutionary slogans at alleged “counter-revolutionaries”, were reported outside many protest organiser’s homes.

In Havana, where plain-clothed state security officers were out in force, a tense calm prevailed. Though schools finally reopened after a long lockdown, many parents opted to keep their children at home.

One 22-year-old university student, who did not give his name for fear of retaliation, trekked across the capital looking for a protest to join. “Nothing’s happening,” he said.

“I feel satisfied for having done this, but I’m also sad about how scared people are,” he said.

Having avoided the spectacle of mass protests, the government will feel it won this round. The Biden administration, it hopes, will now conclude that July’s protests were a blip, that the regime is stable, and that sanctions ought now to be eased.

The Biden administration has so far left all the Trump-era sanctions in place. These powerful sanctions coupled with Covid have halved foreign currency inflows over the last two years, leading to shortages of basic goods and fomenting discontent.

But the desire of young Cubans for greater freedoms will not disappear. “There will now be other attempts to march – and more repression,” the university student said.

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