The dictatorship loses the battle on the Internet and struggles not to lose the streets as well. This has been the most difficult six months for Cubans and for the dictatorship in the last twenty-five years. On July 11, two forces - those in power and the people - came face to face in massive protests - mostly peaceful, until the government ordered their repression - on a scale that had not been seen before in the country.
On July 11, the clamor of the crowds confirmed several certainties reported for years by the independent press: Cubans are having a hard time due to the lack of medicine, food, money, hope and freedom. The majority of the people want a regime change, but the dictatorship represses with indiscriminate violence and by manipulating the justice system. Social networks and internet access are determining factors for the mobilization of the citizenry at the national level. Despite the repression, a group of activists is calling for a new day of protest on November 15.
Three events stand out in this period: the imprisonment of independent journalists Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca and Esteban Rodríguez, the repression of the July 11 protests and the implementation of Decree-Law 35 - which further restricts Internet freedoms.
On April 30, six people held a protest on Obispo Street in Old Havana - which was joined by passers-by. They were arrested and taken to various prisons. Among those arrested were Mary Karla Ares - reporter from the Amanecer Habanero newsletter - who live-streamed the protest, and Esteban Rodríguez - activist and reporter from ADN Cuba - who in November had participated in a hunger strike at the house of artist Luis Manuel Otero - in Havana's San Isidro neighborhood.
Mary Karla Ares was released from prison on May 29, but in return was placed under house arrest, which she still faces. Esteban Rodríguez remains in prison - where he twice contracted Covid-19. Both are being charged with "public disorder" and "resistance" - crimes which together carry a prison sentence of several years.
Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca - journalist and activist, director of the digital blog Delibera and its eponymous YouTube channel - was arrested on June 15 after a police summons in Havana. He was under investigation by State Security for having organized, filmed and published a video of anti-Castro pamphlets being thrown on a street corner in Centro Habana. The journalist was held incommunicado and without legal counsel; he also went on a hunger strike that worsened his health. The regime accuses him of "enemy propaganda" and "disrespect." He could face a ten-year sentence for these crimes.
Another well-known arrest was that of artist Hamlet Lavastida, fiancé of writer and journalist Katherine Bisquet; she was one of the people present at Luis Manuel Otero's house in November - and filmed the violent eviction of the demonstrators. Lavastida was jailed following the mandatory quarantine after returning from abroad. His girlfriend was placed under house arrest and pressured by State Security to leave the country - as the only alternative to obtain the release of Lavastida, who also left the country in September.
Youtuber Yoandi Montiel - known as El Gato de Cuba - remains in jail after satirizing President Miguel Díaz-Canel.
On July 11, Yoan de la Cruz - a young phone card salesman - live streamed and made viral a video of the peaceful and spontaneous protest of hundreds of people who marched towards the city hall in San Antonio de los Baños, to complain against the government, blackouts, economic problems and the lack of adequate vaccination. In less than two hours, new videos and live streaming reached social networks, showing protests by hundreds of people in cities such as Palma Soriano, Güines and Morón. Meanwhile, via Whatsapp, Telegram and Facebook, demonstrations were called for in other cities and videos and messages went viral in all social networks.
The first arrest of a journalist was recorded around 3 o'clock in the afternoon. It was Iris Mariño -from La Hora de Cuba- who was violently dragged out of the peaceful protest in the historic center of Camagüey by plainclothes agents of the State Security and the National Revolutionary Police without prior warning. Ten minutes later Henry Constantín and Neife Rigau were arrested in the same location. Orelvis Cabrera and Alberto Corzo were arrested in Matanzas; Maykel González Vivero, in Havana; Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and Niober García Fournier in Guantánamo. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon, President Díaz-Canel declared on television that "the order to fight has been given, the revolutionaries should take to the streets." He thus opened a severe repression against the peaceful protests.
That day reporters Luz Escobar, Héctor Luis Valdés, Frank Abel García, Mary Karla Ares, Danilo Carrasco, Juan Manuel Moreno, Iliana Hernández, Mabel Páez, Reisel Acosta, Yhosan Torres, Onelsys Díaz, Jorge Luis Romero, Yusleidy Romero, Yanaisy Quesada, Flora Quiñones, Roilán López, Héctor Sierra, Ariorny Ramos, Yaima Cabrera, Wilfredo Fajardo, Ever Fonseca, Martha Liset Sánchez, Raúl Pérez, Aliena Palmero, Maikel Jiménez, Deisy Martínez, Vivian Feo, Manuel Martínez, Yanela Reyes, Orlidia Barceló, Carlos Cárdenas, Pedro Luis Hernández and María Matienzo were unable to leave their homes due to police surveillance. This restriction lasted for days and even weeks for some journalists.
AP photographer Ramón Espinosa was beaten. Photographer Iván Alcaraz - from the state television - was arrested. In the following days reporters Camila Acosta, Yosvani Sepúlveda and Pedro Luis Hernández were arrested.
On July 11, the authorities cut the use of all internet and cell phone services and blocked the main social networks and messaging services. The internet blackout lasted three days.
Since then, many citizens have been persecuted for posting content on their social networks that is upsetting to the regime. Some received "warnings" from government supporters, and police summonses - just for having content about the protests on the networks. The police threat demanded the deletion of materials, or information about leaders of the protests.
On August 17, the most extensive legal gag on freedom of expression on the Internet went into effect: Decree-Law 35 - "On Telecommunications, Information and Communication Technologies and the Use of the Radio Spectrum." Two decrees by the Council of Ministers and three resolutions by the Ministry of Communications also came into force. The most harmful resolution, Resolution 108, lists "cybersecurity incidents" according to various levels of danger. It classifies "social subversion" as "very high" - described as "attempting to disrupt public order, to disrupt social indiscipline" - this was precisely the measure used by the regime's police, prosecutors and judges to arrest, fine or jail hundreds of July 11 demonstrators. Cyberterrorism is defined as any action "through the use of ICTs whose purpose is to subvert the constitutional order, or to suppress or seriously destabilize the functioning of political and mass institutions, the economic and social structures of the State, or to force the public authorities to carry out an act or to refrain from doing so." In addition, it considers as "high" danger, the dissemination of "fake news, offensive messages, defamation with impact on the prestige of the country" and the dissemination "through telecommunication/ICT infrastructures, platforms or services of contents which attempt against the constitutional, social and economic precepts of the State, incite mobilizations or other acts which alter the public order; disseminate messages which make apology to violence, accidents of any kind which affect the privacy and dignity of the people."
Article 3 of Decree-Law 35 declares as its first objective: "To contribute to the use of telecommunications services as an instrument for the defense of the Revolution" - which indicates the repressive and monopolistic spirit of telecommunications.
There is concern that the updating of the Penal Code will include these sanctions.
Following the call of an activist group to a protest on November 15 - the repression against the signers of the document has begun. Their homes have been placed under surveillance and communication cuts have again become frequent for activists and independent journalists.
The country remains in the hands of a regime that governs according to a set of laws - stemming from the constitution imposed in 2018 - that limits all human rights and enshrines the primacy of the will of the ruling elite.
The journalists and independent media workers who have suffered imprisonment or arrests in the period are - in addition to those already mentioned as detained as a result of July 11 and those who received prison sentences or house arrest: Héctor Luis Valdés, Osmel Almaguer, Yoe Suárez, Leonel Rodríguez, Waldo Fernández, Mauricio Mendoza, the youtuber Ruhama Fernández, Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, Yoel Acosta and Enrique Díaz.
The totality of the incarcerations and detentions also includes interrogations, threats, lack of communication with family members and lawyers, and insufficient water and food supply - among other violations of the reporter's human rights.
Camila Acosta, Luz Escobar, Roberto Rodríguez, José Antonio Fornaris, Amarilis Cortina, María Matienzo, Mary Karla Ares, Neife Rigau, Iris Mariño, Héctor Luis Valdés, Henry Constantín and Orelvys Cabrera have been forbidden to go out on the streets - by means of agents stationed outside their homes, house arrest orders or telephone calls.
Summoned for "interviews", to be interrogated or threatened at police stations, were Vladimir Turró, Yadisley Rodríguez, Yusleidy Romero, Ariel Maceo, Yoe Suárez, Yadiris Luis, Mario Ramírez and Héctor Luis Valdés.
Youtuber Ruhama Fernández was the victim of a raid on her home - in which she was stripped of her work equipment.
On July 13, the offices of the independent media La Hora de Cuba - home of Neife Rigau and Henry Constantín - was searched by more than 21 Interior Ministry agents while the journalists were in prison for trying to cover the July 11 protests. The agents stole dozens of work and leisure items and photographed their private documents and belongings. The property was returned to them after their release - but some of it was in poor condition.
In Santiago de Cuba, reporter José Antonio López suffered a search and seizure of his work equipment.
Reporters Yoe Suárez, Niober García, Iris Mariño, Rolando Rodríguez, Orelvys Cabrera, Neife Rigau, Henry Constantín and Yoel Acosta were fined or received warnings for their journalistic work.
Luz Escobar, Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, Neife Rigau, María Matienzo, Abu Dujanah Tamayo have experienced prolonged cuts in their Internet and telephone services.
Augusto César San Martín and Neife Rigau have suffered threats to their relatives or friends.
Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, Yoe Suárez, Yaima Pardo and Nachely Rivero have received different types of threats, in addition to all those who have been summoned or arrested and who have been mentioned above.
The following reporters and media workers remain banned from traveling outside the country: Camila Acosta, Iliana Hernández, Luz Escobar, Reinaldo Escobar, Yoe Suárez, Anais Remón, Henry Constantín, Iris Mariño, Inalkis Rodríguez, Mario Ramírez, Sol García, Yunier Gutiérrez, Julio Aliaga, Víctor Manuel Domínguez, Niober García, Boris González, Odalina Guerrero, Leydis Tabares, Roberto de Jesús Quiñones and Rosalia Viñas.
Journalistic sources and persons interviewed by Camila Acosta, Nachely Rivero and Henry Constantín have been arrested, summoned or interrogated.