Article 56 of the Cuban Constitution recognizes the rights to assembly, demonstration, and association. Nevertheless, the Cuban government has deemed illegal the demonstrations scheduled for November 15, in violation of its own Magna Carta and international law that recognizes the right to protest as a manifestation of two other basic human rights: freedom of expression and the right of assembly.
The Cuban Civic Group Archipielago notified authorities in September of its intention to march in November to call for the release of political prisoners and citizens still detained after the July 11 protests, and to advocate for the respect of the rights of all Cubans and the resolution of differences through democratic and peaceful means. The Cuban government denied permits for the march, claiming that it attempted against the socialist order and was financed by the United States. Organizers announced the protest would take place despite authorities declaring that it would not be allowed. Since then, reports show organizers of the march have been threatened with legal charges. Some have also reported repressive acts against them that range from hate acts in their communities and attacks on social media, to being fired from their workplaces. A smear campaign has been launched on State-run media against the most visible face of Archipielago, playwright Yunior Garcia Aguilera, who is being accused of working with the United States to overthrow the government, allegations that he has continuously denied. Many who have publicly advocated for protests say they have been harassed or put on notice by state security in a bid to keep them off the streets next Monday, and several have been cut-off from internet services.
Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, convened diplomats in Havana on Wednesday, November 10, to reiterate that Cuba would not allow the protest. The harassment and smear campaigns against Cuban citizens who are calling for peaceful demonstrations and the arbitrary detentions of hundreds of people that marched on July 11 illustrate the Cuban government’s unwillingness to respect freedom of expression. The Cuban government should respect the right of peaceful protest, and refrain from violence and repression. The government should also guarantee due process to those still deprived of their liberty due to their participation in previous demonstrations and release those detained unfairly.
Cuban society is demanding respect for fundamental rights and an end of political repression, and citizens are showing their plurality more publicly than in the recent past. The protests of July 11 crystalized the need for the Cuban government to find new ways to give people real and greater participation in the public sphere and to open a channel to dialogue that provides an opportunity to freely express public discontent an opportunity for free expression.
WOLA remains committed to changing U.S. policy towards Cuba. The current humanitarian situation in Cuba continues to grow more dire amid the Covid-19 pandemic, decreasing resources and medical supplies, increased repression in response to social unrest, and continued food and goods shortages which are exacerbated by U.S. sanctions. Cubans are experiencing the worst economic and humanitarian crisis in recent times. It is critical, now more than ever, that the United States take immediate action to allow humanitarian assistance to reach the Cuban people and take concrete steps to foster constructive engagement with Cuba, leading to the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Protecting human rights in Cuba, including the right to protest, is better served by engagement, rather than unilateral isolation, which has proven to be a failed policy.