For a few hours, Cuba’s storied Revolutionary Square, where Fidel Castro once gave hours-long speeches to the masses, had a different name on Google Maps this week: Freedom Plaza.
A group of Cubans on the island and in the diaspora launched a campaign to change the name of the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana to the Plaza de la Libertad — and succeeded, though only temporarily.
User requests for the switch made it through Google’s system, the company confirmed, but were eventually flagged and the name reverted back to its revolutionary idiom.
Osmani Pardo, a Cuba-based activist, said the loose-knit network, whose exact size is unknown, aims to empower the Cuban people to assign new words and language to government-run institutions.
“As we cannot change the name in the physical space, [we] take it to virtual space,” he said. “And from there, when the whole world googles the words Plaza de la Revolución, it will say it was changed because Cuban people themselves want that.”
The Plaza de la Revolución is one of the largest public squares in the world, at about 11 acres. Under Fulgencio Batista’s regime, it was known as Civic Plaza, but after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, the name was changed to the current one.
On one side of the Plaza de la Revolución is the building of the Ministry of the Interior, decorated with an outlined depiction of Ché Guevara and accompanied by his well-known motto “Hasta la victoria siempre,” or “Until victory, always.” A neighboring government building includes a representation of Camilo Cienfuegos, another figure of the Cuban revolution, who disappeared the year Castro assumed command of the Caribbean nation after a plane he was traveling in crashed. On another side of the square is a monument honoring Cuban independence hero Jose Martí.
A Google spokesman said that the tech giant receives around 20 million contributions a day for its maps through reviews, ratings, photos, and other sources. While an automated system and a team of people reviews contributions around the clock, sometimes incorrect name changes or information has slipped through, the official acknowledged. Google uses “authoritative sources” such as government information to determine names.
It’s not the first time Google Maps has been used as a tool of dissent. In conceiving this initiative, activists drew inspiration from protesters in Chile. During the “Estallido Social,” massive protests against social injustice that shook the South American country starting in 2019, the name of the Plaza Baquedano, a historical gathering spot in Santiago, was changed to Plaza de la Dignidad, or Dignity Plaza, on Google Maps.
In the last 24 hours, several Cubans have written reviews on Google Maps supporting the virtual initiative.
“The Cuban dictatorship usurped its true name. Now it is called Plaza de la Libertad,” one man identifying himself as Maykel Morales González wrote.
“Plaza de la Libertad is the real name,” another chimed in.
The act of cyber protest takes place after several groups of artists on the island demonstrated against the government recently. The San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists, academics, activists and journalists advocating for freedom of expression in Cuba, has organized demonstrations and hunger strikes since 2018. Its members have been detained by the Cuban police.
Last week, several Cuban artists in the U.S., Spain and on the island launched the song “Patria y Vida,” or “Homeland and Life,” joining the artist demand for greater freedoms. The name of the song has become a trend on social media, becoming a catchphrase for Cubans pushing for social and political change.
The team of cyber activists intends to continue with the initiative and make changes to the names of other Cuban institutions as a form of protest. Cubans who are not affiliated with the campaign have also joined in, pointing to the organic nature of the virtual expression, the activists said.
Marcel Valdes, a Miami-based activist who is part of the campaign, said even though the name change was fleeting, he nonetheless considers it a success, showing the potential that the internet has as an instrument of free expression.
“The internet is something that the dictatorship does not control,” he said over Whatsapp. “And that is advantageous to us.”