A series of trials has begun in Cuba for 57 protesters who were involved with the massive anti-government protests on July 11, 2021.
Some of the defendants face up to 30 years in prison for demonstrating against the nation’s communist government, despite the right to assemble and protest being protected by article 56 of the nation’s constitution.
“You simply cannot protest against the regime in Cuba,” Cuban-born analyst Fernando Menéndez told The Epoch Times.
The Cuban government has scheduled a total of three trials, with 21 protesters being charged in the eastern city of Holguin, 20 being charged in Havana, and 16 being charged in Santa Clara.
The July 2021 protests were the largest that the politically embattled nation has seen in decades.
Thousands of peaceful protesters took to the streets over several critical shortages involving water, electricity, food, and medicine.
President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel referred to the unarmed demonstrators as “mercenaries.”
As the demonstrations commenced, Díaz-Canel urged supporters of the communist regime to fight back by using violence.
“We call on all revolutionaries to go to the streets to defend the revolution,” he said. “The order to fight has been given.”
In January 2021, there were 138 documented political prisoners being held in Cuba. By the end of the year, that number surged to 955, according to a report from the Spanish legal organization Prisoners Defenders.
“There are no individual rights in Cuba,” Menéndez said.
Growing up in Havana, his family was part of the middle class that, like many others, supported Fidel Castro’s administration in the beginning. That was before the dictator nationalized the nation’s big industries and began seizing foreign-owned assets—and allied Cuba’s interests with the Soviet Union and China, of course.
Fast forward by more than a half-century and the administration of Díaz-Canel, an ardent supporter of the former Castro dynasty, has engaged in multiple human rights violations against detainees from the July protests, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Security officers detained not only peaceful protesters, but also intercepted people on their way to the demonstrations. Military and police arrested more than 1,000 people, according to Cuban rights group Cubalex. More than 500 of them are still being detained by the state.
Unlike previous protests, the internet played an integral part in the enormity of the July demonstrations.
“Because of the internet, people were able to post videos of what was happening, and it caught on like wildfire throughout the country,” Menéndez said.
Another protest to demand the release of the people detained from the July demonstrations was organized by the Cuban Civic Group Archipielago and scheduled for Nov. 15, 2021. The group notified authorities in September of their intention to march, which resulted in denied permit requests based on accusations that the rally was an attempt by the United States to cause disorder and topple the government.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez called the attempted demonstration a “failed operation” orchestrated by the United States.
Menéndez said people will do almost anything to avoid the notoriously terrible conditions of Cuba’s prisons, including relay information to the communist regime of any anti-government speech or behavior perpetrated by family or friends.
“I’ve met people who’ve been to Cuban prison. I’m amazed they’re even alive,” he said.
During a statement made on Jan. 14, Díaz-Canel said, “Those who lead have to be in the street, listening to the people and promoting the participation of the entire population, which must raise, propose, agree on priorities, provide solutions, participate, and control what is done.”