Press release

Cuba: The United States Must Support Cubans’ Demand for Long-Awaited Freedom

Cuban authorities’ violent crackdown on peaceful protests has reportedly resulted in at least one death, numerous injuries, and hundreds of disappearances and detentions.

In response to the ongoing state violence and harassment against peaceful advocates for freedom and democracy in Cuba, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“The people of Cuba need and deserve international support in their courageous struggle for freedom, and the United States must act to protect democracy and freedom in our hemisphere,” said Gerardo Berthin, director of Latin America and Caribbean programs at Freedom House. “In addition to publicly condemning the Díaz-Canel regime’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters and activists, the US government should use diplomatic tools like conditioned foreign assistance or targeted sanctions to press for the release of Cuban political prisoners, an immediate end to state-sanctioned violence against peaceful protesters, and the restoration of internet access to the island.”

“The Díaz-Canel regime would like nothing more than to use perceived US intervention as a wedge political issue and an excuse for further crackdowns, which is why international unity and coordination are vital to supporting the movement for democracy in Cuba. This is about one issue: the world standing in solidarity with the Cuban people, who are bravely demanding the rights that they have been denied for far too long. The Biden administration should rally a coalition of European and Latin American democracies to pressure the Cuban government to enact democratic reforms, decriminalize independent civil society, allow international human rights bodies to access prisons on the island, and empower the Cuban people to help shape their country’s future,” Berthin added.

Background

Since Sunday, July 11, thousands of Cubans have taken to the streets in the largest protests seen in the country in over 60 years. Peaceful protesters have expressed anger over the devastating impact of COVID-19 on a society already struggling with plunging tourism revenues, collapsing medical infrastructure, and the government’s failure to distribute food, medicine, vaccines, and services. In addition, pervasive chants of “freedom” and “down with the dictatorship” reflect the Cuban people’s struggle for human rights and freedoms, denied them for decades by the longest-enduring dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. The protests began as a demonstration in San Antonio de Los Baños, southwest of Havana, and quickly spread throughout the country.

In response to the widespread protests, President Díaz-Canel called on his followers to oppose the protesters, saying in televised remarks that “the order to combat has been given.”  Security forces, including plainclothes officers, have used tear gas, rubber bullets, batons, and at times live ammunition to forcefully disperse the peaceful protests. Cuban officials have reported one fatality, while independent media report several cases of civilians being hospitalized for gunshot wounds, along with nearly 200 disappearances and detentions. Other sources report numbers of wounded, disappeared, and detained individuals in the low thousands. Police have maintained a major presence across the island since the first day of protests.

Journalists covering the events in Havana witnessed the authorities charging protesters and deploying tear gas and pepper spray. Associated Press (AP) photojournalist Ramón Espinosa suffered a broken nose when he was attacked by Havana police, while the equipment of another AP journalist was destroyed by progovernment counterprotesters.

Cubans also took to social media platforms to voice their discontent and broadcast their activities online. In response, the authorities resorted to disrupting internet services throughout the afternoon of July 11. By Monday, July 12, authorities had blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and WhatsApp. Access to the internet remains intermittent.

Cuba is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020.