Crackdown against July 11 protesters and their families continues in Cuba despite outcry

·4 min read
Ramon Espinosa/AP

The mass trials against July 11 protesters continue this week in Cuba despite the outcry of family members, local activists and international organizations, as the communist government has signaled it won’t budge on its intention to snuff other attempts at a popular rebellion.

At least 45 protesters will be tried this week in Havana and nearby Mayabeque province, according to information verified by the activist group Justicia 11J. They have been charged with several crimes, including causing “public disorder,” resisting the police, assault and disrespecting the flag. Some, including nine young Cubans under 20, are accused of inciting sedition, a crime against the government that is punished with decades-long sentences.

Sentences are still pending for 66 protesters tried last week and others who went to trial in December. Government judges already sentenced five protesters, including one with a mental disability, to 15 to 30 years in prison. The harsh sentences are meant to send the message that the government will not tolerate the kind of public demonstrations that erupted around the island on Jully 11, activists say.

As the trials go ahead, relatives and activists trying to rally attention over the issue have also become a target of Cuban security forces.

Last Friday, state security briefly detained Roxana García and other family members of Andy García Lorenzo, a young man that was tried in Santa Clara last week, for speaking of his case with foreign media outlets, including the Miami Herald. Activist Saily González was also dragged into a car by several state security officials and detained for several hours, as she recounted in a post on Facebook. They faced combined fines of 66,000 Cuban pesos ($2,750 at the official exchange rate), but they quickly crowdfunded the money, an example of the growing solidarity with the families of the protesters imprisoned, González told the Herald.

The police also arrested and released art curator Carolina Barrero, actor Daniel Triana and activist Arian Cruz Álvarez, who protested in front of the Supreme Court building in Havana on Monday demanding justice for the jailed protesters.

On Sunday, Barrero and legal aid organization Cubalex published a damning letter allegedly written by Mailene Noguera Santiesteban, a member of a dissident group arrested since July for joining the protests, who described beatings and tortures in prison. The Herald could not independently verify the letter’s authenticity.

Some of the families affected have been criticizing the legal process and seeking help on social media. Luis Wilber Aguilar, the father of 21-year old Walnier Luis Aguilar Rivera, who was sentenced to 23 years despite his mental disability, asked government leaders to “stop the abuse” in a video published on Facebook.

“This video is for the top government officials,” he said. “The country is in turmoil; everything is a lie. Everyone in Cuba has a family member in prison. They are touching the most sensitive part of the people, the children. I cannot sleep thinking about anything else; I feel too much pain. What do I do as a parent if I remain silent, letting my son take 23 years? A 21-year-old boy who has two little girls?

“Up there, there must be a commander of the revolution, a colonel who says, ‘Enough of the abuse,’ ” he continued. “I am making this video for you,” he said referring to the government leaders, “so that you can see what is happening with the people so that you can solve the problem and help.”

Top government officials, however, have voiced their support to the legal proceedings linked to the July 11 street protests, including on Sunday, when the country’s prime minister congratulated judges, prosecutors and police investigators during an event marking the beginning of “the judicial year 2022.”

“The responsibility, the professionalism, the seriousness, the success with which the judicial bodies, in general, have been carrying out their work are a guarantee of society’s confidence in the administration of justice,” Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said before congratulating the gathered officials on behalf of retired Gen. Raúl Castro and Cuba’s handpicked president, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

González said family members should stop hoping for a reduced sentence for their relatives and fight instead for their release through a campaign demanding an amnesty, with the support of other members of civil society.

“The government has all the will in the world to keep them imprisoned and keep them for future exchange,” González said. “Relatives still hope that their sentences will be lowered or that they will be released. Many do not realize that their relatives are innocent.”

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