Reportage. After protests on Monday, a prominent dissident was arrested, and playwright Yunior García Aguilera said he was marching out of ‘responsibility.’ The government shields criticism with its Covid successes.

In Cuba, the opposition has already split: ‘I march alone’

The front of opposition to the Cuban government gathered on the Archipelago platform, which organized Monday’s “civic march” in various cities of Cuba to demand democratic changes and “the release of political prisoners,” was divided in the end.

Playwright Yunior García Aguilera announced that he would undertake his own protest earlier, in which he would “march alone” on Sunday afternoon in the center of the capital, “holding a white rose” (a reference to José Martí, the Apostle of the island’s independence).

In a statement, García Aguilera, the most prominent figure from Archipelago (with about 30,000 supporters, more than half abroad), said that this was “an act of responsibility” aimed at defusing “the violence threatened by the regime” against the demonstrations—declared illegitimate by the government—and avoiding “provocations.”

García Aguilera did not officially distance himself from the call for the protest, but invited anyone who wanted to protest to do so with “ingenious and peaceful methods.” Other promoters—some of whom accused the playwright of “betrayal”—instead maintained the call to demonstrate collectively, especially in some cities in the center of the island, such as Santa Clara, where the arrest of one of the best-known opponents of the regime, Guillermo Fariñas, has been reported.

Archipelago also maintained the call for marches elsewhere in solidarity with those in Cuba, which it said were planned in 100 or so cities (it did not specify which) in various countries (the majority of them in the United States).

García Aguilera’s “solitary” initiative was oriented towards offering images to the foreign media rather than space to the discontent and protests of the most marginalized sectors, those who are suffering most from the serious crisis that the country is going through and who live in the barrios of the periphery.

In the end, he could not carry out his planned protest on Sunday, as security forces surrounded the building he lived in, together with pro-government protesters. He ended up showing the white rose from his window.

Other promoters and “independent” journalists—while the online newspapers they write for are not independent at all, such as the Madrid-based Diario de Cuba, which is well-funded by the U.S. State Department—were under close scrutiny by police and security forces in an attempt to prevent their participation in the demonstrations. Some of them were summoned to police stations or ordered not to leave their homes.

Officials from the U.S. embassy were going to “closely monitor” the protests, while Washington threatened new sanctions “if [the Cuban regime] resorts to violence.” And the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, asked the various diplomatic posts in Havana to monitor the marches.

“These are initiatives for the media. It’s an imperial strategy (by the U.S.) to try to destroy the (Cuban) Revolution,” initiatives “that won’t catch us asleep, because we are ready to defend the Revolution,” said President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Friday night in a meeting with journalists broadcast on all TV stations.

The president’s optimism comes from the government’s success in controlling the pandemic through mass vaccination and control measures that have allowed the curve of contagions to be drastically lowered, bringing it back to the levels of January (less than 400 cases per day) after the peak of about 10,000 contagions a day this summer. This situation has allowed the reopening of tourism on Sunday, the main engine of an expected recovery.

Moreover, after the popular demonstrations of July 11, the Communist Party and the government embarked on a campaign of initiatives in the most marginal barrios, first in Havana and recently in the east part of the island, to listen to the discontent and “strengthen the poder popular” as a form of grassroots organization.

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