More than 100 people arrested or missing in Cuba after rare anti-government protests, activists say

The rare display of public anger came came as the country endures its worst economic crisis in 30 years, with chronic shortages of electricity, food and medicine, and a recent worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Riot police walk the streets after a demonstration against the government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana on 12 July, 2021.

Riot police walk the streets after a demonstration against the government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana on 12 July, 2021. Source: AFP

More than 100 people, including independent journalists and dissidents, have been arrested or are missing after unprecedented anti-government protests in Cuba, with some remaining in custody Tuesday, observers and activists said.

Relatives and friends of those detained during and after Sunday's historic demonstrations were engaged in a desperate search on Tuesday for news on their whereabouts.

"They took him from the house handcuffed and beaten, without a shirt, without a mask," said a 50-year-old woman who did not wish to give her name, enquiring about her 21-year-old son at a police station in the capital.

"They took many from the neighbourhood, young and old," she said, before leaving empty-handed.

Cuba's San Isidro free speech protest movement late on Monday published a list on Twitter of 144 people held or reported as disappeared after thousands of Cubans took to the streets in dozens of cities and towns in a spontaneous outburst of public anger.

Droves of demonstrators chanted "Down with the dictatorship" in protests dispersed by police in some 40 different locations Sunday.

About 100 protesters again gathered in Havana Monday evening, shouting "Down with communism". 

The rallies, unlike any seen since the Cuban revolution, came as the country endures its worst economic crisis in 30 years, with chronic shortages of electricity, food and medicine and a recent worsening of the coronavirus pandemic.

'Economic suffocation'

Havana blamed the show of discontent on the United States pursuing a "policy of economic suffocation to provoke social unrest in the country". 

Cuba has been under US sanctions since 1962.

But Washington pointed the finger at "decades of repression" in the one-party communist state.

"They took my daughter yesterday (Monday) and I have no news of her," said a woman at a Havana police station.

A young man said his brother, 25, was taken from a neighbor's house. "They gave him a tremendous blow, unjustly, and took him away," he said. 

A police official told worried family members that those arrested were taken to different detention centres, without providing details of who went where.

Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary in the US State Department's Bureau for Western Hemisphere affairs, called in a tweet Monday for the "immediate release" of the detainees.

"Violence and detentions of Cuban protesters & disappearances of independent activists... remind us that Cubans pay dearly for freedom and dignity," she said.

Those held included dissident Guillermo Farinas, former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer and artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara.

'Counterrevolutionary elements'

Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba's governing Communist Party, said on Tuesday that President Miguel Diaz-Canel had met with his retired predecessor Raul Castro and the rest of the communist party politburo on Sunday to discuss the protests.

They "analysed the provocations orchestrated by counterrevolutionary elements, organised and financed from the United States for destabilisation purposes," Granma said.

Mobile internet was down in Cuba for much of Sunday and on Monday, the authorities cut access to major social media platforms, according to London-based group NetBlocks.

The United States on Tuesday urged Cuba to end the internet restrictions and demonstrate "respect for the voice of the people by opening all means of communication, both online and offline". 

'Treated like rubbish'

Among those arrested was theater director Yunior Garcia, a leader of the 27N movement born after a much smaller protest by members of the art community on 27 November last year to demand free speech.

Mr Garcia said on Facebook that he and a group of friends were beaten "and forcefully dragged and thrown into a truck". 

"We were treated like rubbish," he said, adding they were taken to a detention centre in Havana where they saw "dozens of young people" arrive.

He was released on Monday afternoon.

Also arrested on Monday was Camila Acosta, a Cuban correspondent for the Spanish newspaper ABC, its foreign editor said.

Spain's foreign ministry on Tuesday urged the Cuban authorities to respect the right to protest and demanded that Cuba "immediately" release Ms Acosta.

The last major protests, and the first since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, were in 1994. 

Those were also against economic hardship but were limited to the capital and quickly put down by police.

4 min read
Published 14 July 2021 at 6:48am
Source: AFP, SBS