During protests and on social media, calls against the arrests and arrests of the Cuban government are mounting
Cubans around the world express concern for their loved ones back home as information leaks from Cuba about protests, arrests and police raids, and calls from international human rights groups for an end to government action grow louder.
Cuban-American musician Willy Chirino called for humanitarian intervention at a press conference in Miami on Wednesday. “People die.”
After the historic anti-government protests in Cuba on Sunday took place in US cities like Miami, Orlando, New York City and Union City, New Jersey – all with large Cuban-American populations – as well as in countries like Spain and Mexico, with people hammering pots and singing “free Cuba”. The greatest concentration was in Miami, the heart of the Cuban community in exile, where protesters blocked the Palmetto Expressway, a major highway, for several hours on Tuesday.
In the Cuban capital Havana on Wednesday, according to NBC News employees driving through the city, there was a heavy police presence on the streets and overall calm.
Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday in demonstrations that have not been seen in decades. Protests are rare in Cuba, where the government tightly controls all aspects of life and dissenting opinions are not tolerated. The protests were largely sparked by the Caribbean island’s deep economic crisis, which has resulted in critical food and drug shortages, rising inflation, rolling power outages amid the tropical summer heat, and long lines to buy groceries that people can find in stores. But the demonstrations quickly turned into calls for “libertad” or freedom and an end to the communist-led system.
They also sang “Patria y Vida” or “Home and Life”, the name of a song released earlier this year by Cuban artists living abroad that plays on the socialist revolutionary slogan “Home or Death”. The song has become a kind of hymn for those who demand freedom in Cuba.
Cuba’s economic crisis was the worst in decades, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic that brought tourism – one of the biggest drivers of its economy – to a standstill. The island nation was also under an economic embargo imposed by the United States in 1960.
In Havana, people have had access to the Internet since Wednesday. The government had restricted access to social media and messaging platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, which made it difficult to recap what was happening across the island. News outside of Havana, where most of the foreign journalists are based, is difficult to confirm.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted Wednesday that the sign of a “government leaving” is to cut social media down to keep people from talking to each other.
Videos of arrests have recently surfaced. A popular YouTuber, Dina Stars, was arrested by authorities during a live interview on a Spanish television news show. She was talking about the protests when she cut off the interview and said that security guards were knocking on her door. She tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that she was back home.
Well-known Cuban musicians such as the band Los Van Van and jazz pianist Chucho Valdés, who have good relations with the government, expressed their support for the demonstrators in Facebook posts. Celebrities in the US, including Puerto Rican singers Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin and Residente, also offered support for the protesters using the trending hashtag #SOSCuba on social media.
“That is very important,” wrote Martin on Instagram. “Our brothers and sisters in Cuba need us to tell the world what they live there,” he said in Spanish.
Cuban authorities confirmed Tuesday that a 36-year-old man died and others were injured, including police officers, in protests on Monday on the outskirts of Havana.
Amnesty International has condemned the detention of more than 100 Cubans, including several journalists.
Amnesty International’s America director Erika Guevara-Rosas tweeted an edited version of a video broadcast on social media showing security forces breaking into a house and apparently shooting a man. Children are crying in the background and you can hear a woman crying and saying, “My children. Why did you do that? There is nothing in my house. Look what you did to my husband ”as the camera points to blood spatter on the floor. She then says they shot her husband and took him away. The video has been verified by NBC News.
“These images of violent arbitrary arrests are repeated in different parts of the country,” tweeted Guevara-Rosas.
The European Parliament published a statement on Wednesday calling on the Vice-President of the European Commission to urge the Cuban authorities to release an imprisoned journalist from the Spanish newspaper ABC, to end all violence against peaceful demonstrators and to allow members of parliament unrestricted entry into Cuba.
We apologize, this video has expired.
In a video, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price urged the Cuban government to release those arrested. “We commend the Cuban people for showing great courage, the strength of their will and the power of their voice,” he said. “We remain deeply concerned about the Cuban government’s ‘call to fight’ and the images of violence we have seen over the past few days.”
Cuba’s government has said that the protests on Sunday were US funded and that Cuban Americans started the riot on social media. It also blamed the decades-long US embargo and pandemic for the dire economic crisis the island is facing.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Tuesday: “There was unrest on July 11th, there was unrest on a very limited scale that opportunistically exploited the difficult conditions in which we Cubans live today.” He said experts had found evidence that outsiders were using sophisticated devices to spread alarmist and inflammatory messages on social media.
In the meantime, Cuba is grappling with rising Covid-19 cases and deaths. The Ministry of Health reported a record 51 deaths and 6,080 new cases in the population of just over 11 million on Wednesday.
Some protesters had expressed frustration with the government’s handling of the pandemic by allowing tourists to visit the island while restricting flights from the US, where many Cubans have relatives waiting to visit and food and take medication with you. The restrictions also make travel difficult for “mulas” or couriers who move goods between the US and Cuba.
Follow NBC Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.