Here’s why thousands of people are taking to the streets in Cuba

On 11 July thousands of people took to the streets in Cuba to peacefully protest over the economy, shortages of medicines, the response to COVID-19, and harsh restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

Amnesty International is closely monitoring the situation and will be updating this page with the latest information as it emerges. We verify and fact-check each piece of information we receive, but when the information comes from other organizations we clearly specify the source. The Cuban authorities do not allow independent human rights organizations to visit the country, and independent human rights lawyers are prevented from working in the country.

What we know so far:

Potentially hundreds of people detained: Human rights lawyers at the NGO Cubalex have produced a working list of 136 people – mostly activists and journalists – who have been detained by the authorities or whose location is unknown following Sunday’s protests. The NGO Prisoners Defenders says it has submitted a list of 187 names to the UN.

Internet cuts: The United Nations Human Rights Committee has declared that “states … must not block or hinder internet connectivity in relation to peaceful assemblies.” However, network data from Netblocks has reported that several social media and communications platforms, including Whatsapp, Facebook, and Instagram were disrupted in Cuba from 12 July. This is not the first time this has happened. Authorities have almost complete control over the internet in Cuba, and as the country has moved online authorities have controlled and censored the internet. In 2019, during the constitutional referendum, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) similarly found that independent media had been blocked and that ETECSA, Cuba’s only telecommunications company, had changed its censorship techniques.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the leaders of the San Isidro Movement, who Amnesty International has named prisoner of conscience three times since March 2020, is among those detained, reportedly at Villa Marista (state security headquarters). Prior to the protests, Luis Manuel had posted a video indicating his intention to join the protests.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists detained during the protests. It said authorities had “intermittently blocked dozens of reporters from leaving their homes” and called on the government to allow the press to cover the protests freely and to stop disrupting internet in the country.

What happened on Sunday?

The Cuban authorities have used the criminal law to imprison and silence alternative voices in the country for decades. Along with arbitrary dismissals from state employment as a tactic to strip people of their livelihood, this has created a profound climate of fear in Cuba for decades.

Sunday’s protest seemed to symbolize a breaking of this fear. Many ordinary Cubans protested for the first time in years over the economic situation, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of medicines and restrictions on freedom of expression.

The San Isidro Movement is one group, composed of artists, academics, LGBTI people and alternative thinkers who have been generating dialogue over harsh restrictions on freedom of expression in the past months and years. They have been constant targets of the authorities’ repression for this.

What will happen next and how have the authorities responded?

While the protests on Sunday were largely peaceful, the authorities deployed police and security forces to disperse and detain protesters. President Díaz-Canel called on “revolutionaries” to confront protesters. Reports of how many are detained range from more than a hundred to thousands. It is reported that at least one person died in the context of the protests. It is unclear if the authorities will release people, or whether the protests will start again.

The Cuban government has attributed the shortages to the longstanding embargo imposed by the United States. The embargo does hinder or limit the possibility of assistance, as Amnesty International has said for decades, and as United Nations experts and others have highlighted in the past and during the COVID-19 response last year. However, the existence of the embargo is no justification for the Cuban authorities’ repressive response to the protests on Sunday.

What can you do?

You can support and take action by:

a) signing our petition; b) publicly urging the Cuban government to:

1. Stop repressing peaceful demonstrators and, instead, guarantee the right to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.

2. Take steps to address the social demands of the population, given the economic crisis, the shortages of food and medicine, the collapse of the health system – which is not responding to the current COVID-19 crisis – and the accumulation of historical demands for respect of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

You can do this on social media, tagging them using the handles below:

Miguel Díaz-Canel, president of Cuba Twitter: @DiazCanelB Facebook: @PresidenciaDeCuba
Bruno Rodríguez P, minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba Twitter: @BrunoRguezP Facebook: @CubaMINREX