Young People With “More Dignity Than Fear” Continue to Protest Cuba’s “Lack of Freedom”

(p. A9) Four months after a wave of spontaneous demonstrations against Cuba’s 62-year-old Communist regime, civic groups and dissidents are defying authorities with protests inside high-security prisons and plans for peaceful rallies across the nation to demand democracy.

Despite facing a crackdown that includes forced exile, summary trials and prison sentences of as much as 25 years, government critics ranging from artists to doctors have openly expressed discontent on social media.

. . .

The arrests have done seemingly little to discourage an increasingly organized and determined opposition movement, fueled by a wave of anger in the island nation over its lack of freedom and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the country’s sharpest economic contraction since the early 1990s.

. . .

“They have sicced prosecutors on us, and threatened us with expulsion from work and universities, but I think many young people have more dignity than fear,” said Yunior García, a playwright and founder of Archipiélago, a rights group with more than 31,000 members on Facebook that requested permission for the demonstration.

. . .

In an unusual show of public criticism, doctors—long considered the pride of Cuba’s revolution—posted videos on social media complaining about dismal work conditions.

For the full story, see:

José de Córdoba and Santiago Pérez. “In Cuba, Protest Amid Threat Of Prison, Exile.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021): A9.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 8, 2021, and has the title “Cuba’s Dissidents Dig In Despite Government Crackdown.” When there was a slight difference in wording in the versions, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)

Cuban Podcasts Thrive Because Cheap to Produce and Hard for Communists to Censure

(p. 4) There has been little to laugh about in Cuba lately. But on a recent episode of El Enjambre, a weekly podcast produced on the island, the three hosts were howling at the latest form of censorship by the state-run telecommunications company.

“If you send a text message with the word freedom, the message doesn’t reach the recipient,” Lucía March told her incredulous co-hosts, referring to the Spanish language word libertad. “It evaporates, vanishes! I’m serious.”

The exchange was funny, informative and lighthearted, traits that have made El Enjambre one of the biggest hits among the scores of new Cuban-made podcasts that are now competing for residents’ attention and limited internet bandwidth.

Cubans began having access to the internet on smartphones only in 2018. Since then, podcasts about politics, current events, history, entrepreneurship and language have upended how Cubans get their information, expanding the middle ground between the hyperpartisan content generated by government-run media outlets and American government funded newsrooms that are highly critical of the island’s authoritarian leaders.

. . .

“It’s very difficult for a government to censor a podcast because there are many ways of distributing it,” said Mr. Lugones, who believes the new audio initiatives are stirring nuanced conversations on the island. “Podcasts spark debates in society all the time. They cause people to reflect.”

A desire to do just that prompted Camilo Condis, an industrial engineer who has opened a few restaurants in Havana, to launch El Enjambre — Spanish for swarm of bees — in late 2019. The heart of the show is a spirited, spontaneous conversation among Mr. Condis and his co-hosts, Ms. March and Yunior García Aguilera.

No subject is off limits.

El Enjambre provided detailed coverage of the remarkable July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba and searing criticism of the ruthless crackdown that followed.

The hosts also dissected the dismal state of the health care system as Covid-19 cases surged on the island, mocked the sputtering initiatives by the government to allow some private sector activities, such as garage sales, and attempted to read the tea leaves on the future of Washington’s relationship with Havana.

Each episode includes a short, humorous, scripted drama, a segment called History without Hysteria and a lengthy conversation that tends to focus on the issues Cubans have been arguing about on social media over the past few days.

“The objective was to create a conversation like you’d have on any street corner in Cuba,” Mr. Condis said. “But we provide only verified facts, because it matters greatly to us to never provide false information.”

. . .

But the format is the rare media venture that requires little training or capital, said Elaine Díaz, the founder of Periodismo de Barrio, a watchdog news site that covers environmental and human rights issues in Cuba.

. . .

Podcasts in Cuba are labors of love at this point, said Mr. Condis. But he hopes that one day they can become profitable.

“In the future, I want to have advertisers,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Ernesto Londoño. “New Podcasts Add to the Conversation in Cuba.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, September 19, 2021): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 18, 2021, and has the title “Despite Censorship and Poor Internet, Cuban Podcasts Are Booming.”)

Cubans Are Protesting for Freedom from Communism, Not against U.S. Embargo

(p. 10) The Black Lives Matter movement issued a statement on July 14, saying that the unrest resulted from the “U.S. federal government’s inhumane treatments of Cubans.” In an advertisement that ran in The New York Times on July 23, [2021] paid for by the People’s Forum, a nonprofit organization, the signatories, some of whom are American citizens and advocacy groups, framed Cuba’s numerous troubles as reducible to the U.S. trade embargo.

But for anyone following the demonstrations closely, it’s easy to see what the protesters are really calling for. Through the intrepid efforts of independent journalists who labor under constant threat, we have been given an unfiltered glimpse of these calls for freedom — the last thing that the country’s leadership wants anyone to see — as well as the state’s predictably harsh reaction. The government promptly cut off the internet to prevent Cubans from communicating. Authorities detained several hundred Cubans, including minors, while others have been beaten by the police and civilians armed with sticks. The accused have been barred from the right to a lawyer and subjected to summary trials.

Some progressive groups argue that Cubans are protesting food and medicine shortages caused by the U.S. trade embargo. This interpretation falsely claims that the embargo makes it impossible to obtain food and medicine, even though the United States created an exception to its trade embargo of Cuba in 2000 to allow food and medicine sales and sells millions of dollars’ worth of food to the country, including grain and protein consumed by Cuban households.

. . .

Both the Cuban government and progressives are complicit in their disregard for Cubans’ right to their own opinions and aspirations. We Cubans are used to misguided perceptions of what life in Cuba is really like. Fidel Castro promised a more prosperous country, a nation where all Cubans could live in dignity and true equality. But his bait-and-switch revolution delivered an educated people that in 60 years have been able to elect only three presidents. A cultivated people that have no access to public debate and participation.

The Cuban people are tired of Communism and broken promises. For the first time, in more than 50 cities and towns throughout the island, they took to the streets to demand change. They have been told that it is unchangeable, but they are asking for the right to alter the conditions of their lives. They want more than an end to the embargo.

They should have the right to create a society by and for themselves. Even if their specific aspirations disappoint the utopian views of some foreign progressives.

For the full commentary, see:

Armando Chaguaceda and Coco Fusco. “Cubans Want Much More Than an End to the Embargo.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, August 8, 2021): 10.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 7, 2021, and has the title “Cubans Want Much More Than an End to the U.S. Embargo.”)

Cuban Communists Ban “Patria y Vida”

I highlighted the spirit and courage of those who sang the “Patria y Vida” song in my blog entry on February 22, 2021.

(p. A1) The protesters pouring into streets across Cuba have a common rallying cry: “Patria y Vida,” or “Fatherland and Life.” The phrase comes from a hip-hop song released a few months ago by dissident Cuban artists who set out to challenge the government—and in the process helped spark a wave of protests against the 62-year communist regime.

In the demonstrations that began Sunday, Cubans have called for an end to the regime, protesting the scarcity of food and medicine amid a surge of coronavirus cases. For Cuba’s frustrated youth in particular, “Patria y Vida” has become a danceable protest anthem and a viral sensation, with nearly six million views on YouTube.

. . .

(p. A8) The Cuban regime has banned any playing of “Patria y Vida.” The lyrics respond to Cuba’s revolutionary motto of “Patria o Muerte,” or “Fatherland or Death,” with lines like: “No more lies! My people demand freedom. No more doctrines! / Let us no longer shout ‘Fatherland or Death’ but ‘Fatherland and Life.’ ”

. . .

Messrs. Castillo, Otero and about 20 others created the San Isidro Movement to challenge the government by taking art from the galleries and music studios to the street, making performances public and organizing independent exhibits. The name came from the neighborhood where Messrs. Castillo and Otero live in Old Havana.

. . .

“It’s your fault that a whole nation is suffering,” sang Mr. Castillo in a song titled “Because of You, Sir,” and directed to Fidel Castro. The video juxtaposes images of the famed revolutionary leader next to rundown scenes of Havana, with hungry and hopeless residents looking through garbage.

Weeks after the release of “Patria y Vida,” police attempted to arrest Mr. Castillo near Mr. Otero’s home, but hundreds of angry San Isidro residents forced them to retreat. Video that was later shared widely captured him strutting on the street shirtless with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his wrist, while hundreds in the crowd sang “Patria y Vida” . . . .

For the full story, see:

Santiago Pérez and José de Córdoba. “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “‘Patria y Vida’: The Dissident Rappers Helping Drive Cuba’s Protests.” The online version of the article says the print version had the title “The Artists Rattling Cuba’s Regime,” but my print version had the title “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” I think I receive the Central edition, but can’t find where that is stated.)

“We Demand the Right to Have Rights”

(p. A9) An alliance of hip-hop musicians, writers, internationally known artists and Black activists has emerged as a driving force against censorship and government repression in Cuba, prompting a rare Communist government action: to hold talks about freedom of expression.

Hundreds of Cubans, many of them young artists from elite schools, protested in front of the country’s stately neoclassical Ministry of Culture in Havana’s upscale Vedado district, overnight on Friday. Protests of any sort are very rare in Cuba.

“We demand the right to have rights…. The right of free expression, of free creation, the right to dissent,” said Katherine Bisquet, a young poet, reading the activists’ manifesto by the light of cellphones outside of the ministry where streetlights were turned off. Videos posted on social media showed Ms. Bisquet saying that she spoke for all Cuban citizens.

. . .

Jake Sullivan, President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser-designate, in a tweet Sunday said that Mr. Biden supported the Cuban people in their struggle for liberty, called for the government to release peaceful protesters and said Cubans must be allowed to exercise “the universal right to freedom of expression.”

For the full story, see:

José de Córdoba and Santiago Pérez. “Cuba’s Creative Class Crafts United Protest Against Censorship.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 1, 2020): A9.

(Note: ellipsis internal to third quoted paragraph, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 30, 2020, and has the title “Cuban Leadership Confronts a Rare Dissident Movement.” Where the wording in the last quoted paragraph is slightly different between the online and print versions, the passage quoted above follows the online version.)

Gerardo Guillén García del Barco Wants to Build in Cuba “Without Being Hindered by Bureaucracy”

(p. A10) HAVANA — Car dealerships, book publishing and hedge funds are still prohibited. Bed-and-breakfasts are not. Zoos, scuba diving centers and weapons production remain banned. Veterinary services aren’t.

As Cuba’s Communist government continues its piecemeal expansion of the fledgling private sector, Cubans are carefully parsing a list of the economic activities that the government proposes to keep under its control.

. . .

The new list seems to open major new space for manufacturing. Cubans will now be able to apply for licenses to open cheese, paint and toy factories, for example, though the government has not yet defined the permitted size of such ventures.

While some Cubans hailed the list as an important step forward in the country’s economic liberalization, it left others complaining that the government had not gone far enough.

“It’s messed up,” said Gerardo Guillén García del Barco, 26, an architect in Havana whose profession the government plans to maintain under its sole control. “Every time something appears that looks like a panacea, it ends in nothing.”

“My dream is to do exactly what I’m doing today but within a legal framework,” he said, explaining that he left a government firm and now works freelance without a license. “I want to do my own architecture without being hindered by bureaucracy.”

. . .

Last Saturday [Feb. 6, 2021], in announcing the planned expansion of private economic activity, Marta Elena Feitó, Cuba’s labor and social security minister, said that the changes would “unleash the productive forces” of the population.

For the full story, see:

Ed Augustin and Kirk Semple. “Cubans Study a Shrinking List of Prohibited Private Enterprises.” The New York Times (Friday, February 12, 2021): A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 11, 2021, and has the title “Cubans Study a Shrinking List of Banned Private Enterprises.”)

Black Cuban Dissident Rapper: “Donald Trump 2020! That’s My President”

(p. A12) HAVANA — In another era, the detention of a young Cuban dissident may have gone completely unnoticed. But when the rapper Denis Solís was arrested by the police, he did something that has only recently become possible on the island: He filmed the encounter on his cellphone and streamed it live on Facebook.

The stream last month prompted his friends in an artist collective to go on a hunger strike, which the police broke up after a week, arresting members of the group. But their detentions were also caught on cellphone videos and shared widely over social media, leading hundreds of artists and intellectuals to stage a demonstration outside the Culture Ministry the next day.

This swift mobilization of protesters was a rare instance of Cubans openly confronting their government — and a stark example of how having widespread access to the internet through cellphones is testing the power balance between the communist regime and its citizens.

. . .

In a country hammered by U.S. sanctions, the politics of some in the group have raised eyebrows. Mr. Solís is a die-hard Trump supporter: In the video he posted of his arrest, he screamed: “Donald Trump 2020! That’s my president.”

For the full story, see:

Ed Augustin, Natalie Kitroeff and Frances Robles. “‘An Awakening’: Cubans’ Access to the Internet Fosters Dissent.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 10, 2020): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 11, 2021, and has the title “‘On Social Media, There Are Thousands’: In Cuba, Internet Fuels Rare Protests.”)

“Run With the Herd or Be Crushed by It”

The author of the passages quoted below writes poetry and novels in Havana.

(p. 7) Throughout my life, I’ve seen how powerless parents are in matters regarding their own children. Parents have no say over how their children should be raised, whether they will be conscripted or sent away to school in rural areas, and what dangers could befall them being so far from home and such a young age. They have no say over their children’s manners, religious teachings and political ideologies. There are only two choices: Run with the herd or be crushed by it.

As a teenager in the 1980s, I was taught in a “scientific communism” class that family was the heart of society. But from what I could see, that was no longer the case; organizations with mass followings like the Young Communist League had taken its place.

. . .

I was born and raised in a system that exerts control under the guise of paternalism — a system that caresses you as it beats you, that teaches you but also inhibits you, enlightens you and censures you. We are hostages to a government that behaves like an abusive, old-fashioned and sexist father, from whom we must seek consent and forgiveness.

For the full commentary, see:

Wendy Guerra. “Cuban Women Need a Revolution.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, October 13, 2019): 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 12, 2019, and has the title “‘Cuban Women Await Their #MeToo Moment.” The first paragraph quoted above is from the online version and differs in several respects from the equivalent paragraph in the print version.)

Disillusioned Cuban Communist Became Entrepreneur

(p. 7) . . . , Ms. Limonta’s faith in the revolution had been absolute. Born just three weeks after Fidel Castro started his uprising by beaching an old American yacht called Granma in a mangrove swamp on Cuba’s southern shore in 1956, she had fully embraced his promise to wipe out inequality and create a new Cuba.

. . .

As the revolution aged, contradictions grew harder to ignore. As her job took her around the country, she saw that the hospitals most Cubans went to were shabby reflections of the one where her mother was treated. Other Cubans waited months, sometimes years, for a wheelchair. They couldn’t count on oxygen being available. Vital equipment broke down. Medicines ran out. Doctors and nurses expected to be bribed.

The stark differences weighed on Ms. Limonta, weakening her revolutionary spirit as well as her heart. She was just 48 when she was rushed to the mediocre hospital to which she, as a resident of Guanabacoa, was assigned. But once doctors found out who she was, they insisted on transferring her to Cuba’s top cardiology center.

She got the pacemaker she needed, but the speedy treatment only deepened her doubts. Bound by a strict sense of social justice, she finally forced herself to see the truth. She and her mother had been pampered in their time of need not because they were equal to other Cubans. Not because they were socialists. Not because they loved Fidel. But because they were more important.

The surgery caused a nearly mortal infection in her heart. Emergency open-heart surgery left her scarred and uncertain about her life. She decided to quit her job, hand in her party membership, give back her state car and even renounce the Santería religion she had been practicing.

Standing before a mirror one day, she cried. The scars on her body made her look like she had been torn apart and sewn back together, which was how she felt about her life. She had turned her back on everything she once believed in and had no idea how to go on. She was not like her friend Lili, who led the neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and whose faith in Communism was unshakable. Like many other Cubans whose support for the revolution lagged, Ms. Limonta had few options. She could dissent openly and invite harassment or persecution. She could throw herself into a raft and hope the sea breezes blew her to Florida. Or she could keep her thoughts to herself and focus on surviving.

Even with the subsidized rice and beans every Cuban receives, her $12 monthly pension guaranteed only misery. She needed to remake her life and found inspiration in the old treadle sewing machine that her mother had given her for graduation. Using discarded hotel sheets, she sewed crib sets for newborns that she covertly sold for a few dollars apiece. In 2011, when Raúl Castro cautiously allowed Cubans to start their own small businesses, Ms. Limonta became one of Cuba’s first legal capitalists.

Eventually, with help from a church-sponsored business incubator, she created her own company, rented space for a workshop, hired seamstresses and started turning out clothing of her own design. When President Barack Obama visited Havana in 2016 to see for himself how Cuba was responding to the opening he had set in motion, Ms. Limonta was among the Cuban entrepreneurs who met with him.

. . .

. . . , the old men who run Cuba cannot deny that they’ve lost even individuals like Ms. Limonta who once embraced the revolution. Cubans are not in the streets protesting, but they have no loyalty toward the men who took Fidel Castro’s place or the political system they keep propping up.

For the full commentary, see:

Anthony DePalma. “How Cubans Lost Faith in Revolution.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, May 24, 2020): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 23, 2020 and has the same title as the print version.)

DePalma’s commentary, quoted above, is related to his book:

DePalma, Anthony. The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times. New York: Viking, 2020.

Jailed Cuban Human Rights Dissident Fears for Life

(p. A1) MIAMI — The activist José Daniel Ferrer García made his desperate plea by hand.

“On hunger and thirst strike,” Mr. Ferrer, one of Cuba’s most well-known dissidents, scrawled on a piece of paper smuggled out of prison. “They have done everything to me.”

Mr. Ferrer, 49, has been jailed since Oct. 1 [2019] on what human rights activists say is a trumped-up assault and battery case. In his note, he described being dragged, cuffed by his hands and feet, and left in his underwear for two weeks to be nipped by mosquitoes and the morning chill.

“My life is in grave danger,” he warned.

Mr. Ferrer’s detention renews the spotlight on Cuba and the lengths it goes to against dissidents under President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Nineteen months after assuming the presidency amid high hopes for reform within Cuba and abroad, Mr. Díaz-Canel leads a government that bears a striking similarity to the Castro dynasty that preceded him, critics say.

For the full story, see:

Frances Robles. “For Cubans, a New 3G Bullhorn, but the Same Same Old Arrests.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 3, 2019): A1 and A10.

(Note: bracketed year added.]

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 2, 2019, and has the title “Activist’s Case Hints at What Changes and What Stays the Same in Cuba.” The online version says that the title of the New York print edition was “For Cubans, New Ways to Speak Out, but the Same Old Arrests.” The title of my National print edition was “For Cubans, a New 3G Bullhorn, but the Same Same Old Arrests.”)