Cuban opposition gears up to challenge government ban on nationwide protests

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The Cuban opposition said it would take to the streets as scheduled on Monday to demand the release of political prisoners, despite authorities banning the protest and banning its organizers from leaving their homes the day before.

News of the “15N” rally (November 15) in Havana and six provinces has spread rapidly on Cuban social media platforms in recent weeks, with opposition supporters planning to highlight the continued detention of hundreds. of prisoners imprisoned since the historic July protests.

These nationwide protests left one dead, dozens injured and 1,270 arrested. More than 650 are still in prison, according to human rights group Cubalex.

The protest could thwart the government’s plan for Monday to mark a jubilant “return to normalcy” after months of COVID-19 border and school closures, and could disrupt festivities celebrating Havana’s 502nd anniversary.

Cuba suppresses dissent ahead of protest march

“Our motto is peace,” promised President Miguel Diaz-Canel, speaking on television on Friday. “In peace we will begin a new phase of the school year on the 15th, in peace our economy will recover.”

But he also warned that his supporters were “ready to defend the revolution” in the face of “an imperial strategy (of the United States) to try to destroy the revolution”.

Cuban officials, who deny the existence of political prisoners in the country, see the opposition as illegitimate and claim it is funded by Washington.

On Sunday, the United States urged Cuban authorities to lift the ban on the protest.

“We call on the Cuban government to respect the rights of Cubans, allowing them to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard without fear of retaliation or violence from the government, and by keeping internet and telecommunication lines open for free trade. information, “said the Secretary of State. said Antony Blinken.

“House under siege”

But security forces stepped up pressure on Sunday, surrounding the home of one of the organizers as he prepared to leave for a solo protest march.

“I woke up this morning with my house under siege,” 39-year-old playwright Yunior Garcia said in a video on Facebook.

Garcia had planned to walk through central Havana dressed in white and with a white rose in his hand, to signify the protesters’ non-violent intentions.

AFP journalists saw numerous plainclothes civil servants blocking the rue de Garcia or posted on the rooftops of his neighborhood, where they unfurled huge Cuban flags.

Garcia, who has been described in state media as “enemy number one,” said state agents had told him earlier that “they will not allow me to protest,” adding, “they m ‘even said which prison they were going to take me to. “

At least six other coordinators of Archipielago, a Facebook protest group created by Garcia, have been barred from leaving their homes previously, while a dissident, Guillermo Farinas, was arrested on Friday, the group said.

On Saturday, in an apparent attempt to downplay international attention to the protests, Cuban authorities revoked the credentials of six journalists from Spain’s EFE news agency.

The credentials of two journalists were then returned, EFE said.

“Wave of repression”

In an open letter published on Sunday, some 40 civil organizations in Cuba and abroad denounced “the wave of repression which has intensified against the organizers of the demonstration and the citizens who identify with the movement”.

Despite mounting pressure, Archipielago, which has 30,000 followers in Cuba and abroad, maintained its call for Monday’s protests, asking participants to dress in white.

It is unclear whether the call to action will be taken up as widely as in July, with the government intending to quell the movement.

In addition to banning the demonstration, the authorities threatened the participants with criminal sanctions.

According to independent Cuban media, prosecutors have called for sentences of up to 30 years for some of the protesters arrested in July.

On Sunday, Diaz-Canel visited a Havana park where dozens of Communist students have staged a pro-government sit-in since Friday to repeat his message of peace.

“Cuba will live in peace,” he told the enthusiastic students, “and by living in peace we will improve.

(AFP)

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