Youth Protests Against Cuba’s Dictatorship Increase in 2019
By Julieta Pelcastre / Diálogo January 14, 2020
Social media has emerged as an effective tool against the socialist regime.
Although many Cubans lack internet access because of the State’s costly and controlled internet connection, young people are using technology to question the island’s political system. In 2019, dissident groups initiated protests via social media to show their disapproval of the Miguel Díaz-Canel government, which led to intervention from police forces.
“There were more protests against the dictatorship during 2019. The Cuban society woke up and is taking advantage of new technologies and internet access,” Cuban activist Liu Santiesteban, head of the program Despierta Cuba, which livestreams on Facebook from the United States, told Diálogo. “In the past, we didn’t have this mechanism and tool, not only for information, but also for internal coordination.”
The allegations against the Cuban government, which doesn’t allow any form of social expression, “spurred a wave of police repression in 2019 against hundreds of people, both opponents and activists of human and economic rights, including the right to change the political system,” Javier Larrondo, president of Prisoners Defenders, a Spanish nongovernmental organization dedicated to legal and defense matters, told Diálogo.
September 8 saw a surge of arrests against members of dissident organizations Patriotic Union of Cuba and Cuba Decide, after they urged people via social media to demonstrate with a sunflower in their hand to express solidarity with victims of State abuse.
“The repression against those promoting and calling for the sunflower protest was carried out via a large-scale police operation all over the island,” Cuban activist Rosa María Payá, coordinator of the movement Cuba Decide, in exile in the United States since 2012, told Diálogo. “The march scared the system so much that more than 180 activists went to prison. The level of fear the regime projects is ridiculous.”
Before this protest, users and administrators of the first grassroots network, created in 2001, protested in front of Cuba’s Ministry of Communications on August 12, against regulations banning the network that allowed thousands of people to share content and opinions in virtual forums. After authorities dispersed the protest, the state confiscated the network’s infrastructure.
“Now, claims of discontent are more varied, because they come from different sectors in society and not exclusively from the organized opposition, as was the case of the May 11 protest in Havana, in response to the banning of the traditional gay parade, a march the pro-government Center for Sexual Education organizes every year,” Paya said. “More than 300 members of the gay community were repressed, while three were detained by police agents, for peacefully defending the rights of sexual minorities.”
The regime also attacked hundreds of protesters who took to the streets on February 23 to reject the text of the new Cuban Constitution, which was approved against the people’s will the following day. “The police increased detentions and torture against all those campaigning against the constitutional referendum,” Larrondo said. “More than 2 million Cubans said no to the regime.” The new constitution irrevocably ratifies the implementation of socialism on the island.
In Cuba, social media serves to level the playing field and force verbal interaction with the government. “The populism that lapsed into dictatorship will be dismantled by young Cubans with the help of new technologies and social media, a realm where the regime won’t be able to beat them,” Santiesteban concluded.