The latest round of opposition protests planned in Cuba has not materialised, with police flooding the island nation’s capital and several prominent organisers reporting being confined to their homes.
Amid a months-long government crackdown on dissent, friends and family said several more opposition figures were detained on Monday when organisers had called on citizens to take to the street to protest the government and call for the release of political prisoners jailed following earlier demonstrations in July.
Those detained included Manuel Cuesta Morua, 58, as well as Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White rights movement, and her husband Angel Moya, a former political prisoner.
Another government critic, Guillermo Farinas, was arrested on Friday.
Filmmaker Raul Prado said many organisers were “suffering the consequences” of publicly expressing a willingness to demonstrate.
“Demonstrating is a civic right. Under the circumstances in which we are and with the tools we have, everyone has that right,” he told the Associated Press news agency on Monday.
Those targeted also included playwright Yunior Garcia, who initially called for the demonstrations with his group Archipelago, an online discussion forum with 35,000 members.
Garcia tried to make a solo protest walk on Sunday but was prevented from leaving his apartment building by government supporters who also hung Cuban flags from the roof of his building, obscuring his windows to prevent him from communicating with anyone outside.
The flags were still there on Monday and a guard stood at the door.
Meanwhile, entrepreneur Saily Gonzalez, who is a moderator of the Archipelago forum, uploaded a live broadcast showing her dressed in white – the colour meant to signify opposition to the government – while government supporters in red chanted revolutionary slogans and insulted her at her home in Santa Clara.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel last week said his supporters were “ready to defend the revolution” in the face of “an imperial strategy [of the US] to try to destroy the revolution”.
‘Wave of repression’
As the 3pm (20:00 GMT) start time for the planned rallies approached, police were deployed in large numbers on the streets of Havana.
Along the city’s seaside esplanade, armed police in uniform gathered on nearly every corner, while others in civilian dress patrolled the squares and parks.
While some citizens posted pictures of themselves in the streets dressed in white, the masses did not heed organisers calls.
Opposition figures had hoped the planned rallies, which had been banned by the government, would resemble the spontaneous demonstrations, fuelled by economic hardships and a desire for greater civil liberties, that broke out in the country in July. Such protests had not happened in Cuba for decades.
At least one person was killed during the July unrest, with dozens injured and 1,270 arrested.
More than 650 remain in jail four months after the demonstrations, according to rights group Cubalex.
In an open letter published on Sunday, dozens of Cuban and foreign NGOs denounced “the wave of repression that has intensified against the organisers of the protest and citizens who identify with the movement”.
According to independent Cuban media, prosecutors have been requesting sentences of up to 30 years for some of the protesters arrested in July.
On Monday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez mocked what he called a “failed operation” – the Communist government has repeatedly accused the US and other foreign actors of using the demonstration to destabilise Cuba.
“Apparently some of my colleagues in Washington dressed for nothing, for their party which did not take place,” he quipped in a video posted on Facebook, because “the script was not good and the staging even worse.”
For its part, Washington condemned the government crackdown that it said thwarted the protest.
“In advance of peaceful demonstrations planned for today, the Cuban regime predictably deployed a set piece of harsh prison sentences, sporadic arrests, intimidation tactics, and acts of repudiation all in an attempt to silence the voice of Cuban people as they clamor for change,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Monday.
The administration of President Joe Biden had vowed to reengage with Cuba, against which Washington has imposed a decades-long trade embargo that observers say has economically devastated the population.
However, the administration has so far sidestepped that pledge amid the protest tensions.