Carolina Barrero didn’t know that returning to Cuba after living abroad for years to join a protest movement would mean that she would witness the largest demonstrations the island had seen in decades.

“When we went to sleep on the 10th of July, no one could imagine what would happen the next day,” the young art historian remembered.

The morning of July 11th, dozens of videos started to circulate on social media, showing Cubans shouting “Abajo el comunismo,” protesting in front of the Communist Party affiliate offices all across the island and expressing their frustrations about a “collapsed” healthcare system, power outages and food shortages amid a global pandemic. Overall, protesters demanded change from a one-party government that has ruled for over 60 years.

The government rapidly deployed its security forces to disperse the crowds. A protester named Diubis Tejeda died in Havana after getting shot by a police officer, according to the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH, in Spanish).

Backers of the government march in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Hundreds of supporters of the government took to the streets while hundreds protested against ongoing food shortages and high prices of foodstuffs. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)

Barrero wanted to step out of her apartment in La Habana Vieja to join the demonstrations, but she couldn’t. She had already been put under house arrest after participating in previous protests propelled by artists. She was charged with defying the authorities, inciting crime, and printing clandestine flyers, but she denies having committed any crimes.

In the days that followed the July protests, hundreds of Cubans were charged with instigating unrest, vandalism, and propagating Covid-19. Some underwent summary trials without access to a defense lawyer, according to international human rights organizations.

The international media attention has faded away from the island, but activists like Barrero say the government has doubled down on its policing tactics, suppressing any expression of dissent on the streets.

Meanwhile, as of the end of September, more than 500 Cubans remained in detention, according to the local NGO Cubalex.

Some of those who remain imprisoned are artists from Movimiento San Isidro, a coalition that was founded in 2018 to oppose a new decree they said limited freedom of speech. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a performance artist who has been one of the most known faces of the protest movement, and Maykel Osorbo, a rapper who participated in the hit song “Patria Y Vida,” are still jailed.

A truck of special forces police sits parked outside National Capitol building in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, July 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Eliana Aponte)

The Cuban government claims there was “no social uprising” and says detainees were processed under the law. It also blamed hardships on U.S. sanctions and claimed Washington and its “allies” were using social media to organize and purposely create disruption on the island.

In the months that followed the unrest, the government launched some economic measures to handle the crisis, but it also issued a decree to tighten control specifically on social media.

In this episode of Latino USA, we speak with Carolina Barrero from her apartment in Havana, where she has been on house arrest for more than three months. She had to borrow cellular data in order to do the interview because she says she is denied access to internet connection. We discuss what it means to be under house arrest on the island, the “myth” of Cuba, and how young generations are questioning the government’s understanding of what communism is.

Activists announced a new series of protests on November 15. The government banned the demonstrations and warned last week that those who participate “will face legal consequences for promoting and participating in illegal marches.”

Featured illustration by EL TOQUE.



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2 thoughts on “At Odds With Cuba’s ‘Myth’

  1. I’m convinced Miss PATRICIA SULBARÁN ” fails to notice” extremely important historical and political facts in their supposedly well research endeavor.

    I”m an 85 years old retiree Cuban-American veteran who deeply loves my second motherland.
    Beforehand I would like to clarify my position, on this matter, to avoid wrong and preconceived judgments.
    My only purpose is, somehow, to try to help the millions of Cuban citizens whose only fault has been to reside in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I want to make clear that, EXCEPT for the terrible harm inflicted to the Cuban society by the U.S. OBSOLETE COLD WAR POLICIES, in other words THE CRUEL EMBARGO, I strongly point to the Cuban government as partially responsible for historically implementing painful human rights and wrong economic policies thus making them also responsible for the suffering and impoverishment of the country although,I must recognize they have advanced in the areas of education and medicine.

    Why does the US impose an embargo on Cuba and NOT on other countries who do much worse? Do the US maintain normal relations with them for being powerful and commercially important even though they notoriously violate human rights, religious rights, abuse women, minorities, and seek to steal military-political and trade secrets?
    The United States has had a long obsession with Cuba – (See the 03/22/2016 essay by George Friedman)

    Has the US been intentionally manipulated into imposing invalid, punitive legislation against its neighboring countries and, by doing so, worsening their already awful living conditions?
    The negative effect exerted by some powerful politicians, backed by influential ethnic organizations who are only interested in their own financial and POLITICAL AGENDAS, are mostly responsible for this perversity.

    I do not understand how many ex-national of this assaulted country (Cuba) that now ENJOY THE BENEFITS OF RESIDING IN THE U.S., continue to support the very same unscrupulous politicians, with their crooked agendas, that keep helping to destroy their homeland.
    Are they not able to see, or might be ignoring, how their relatives are hardly able to survive? How about the damage inflicted to these societies’ infrastructure, financial institutions, and their food and medical production industries.

    Would it really be possible to believe that previous and present U.S. administrations (with their all-powerful intelligence apparatus) were unaware that the adopted policy of punishing the “Cuban government” would NOT negatively affect their innocent population?
    There is no way they could have missed this reality – a desperate situation of pain and vicissitudes that such policy has caused, mostly, to the CUBAN SOCIETY.
    By the way, for many years most of the world’s countries have rejected the U.S. imposed embargo on Cuba; just look at the United Nations voting statistics.

    The following 20 minutes video cleverly shows how the truth has been manipulated to show what unscrupulous politicians, as well as other implicated individuals and organization, wants to manifest to the world with their own twisted deceptions.
    Please think, should we trust well-research historical facts or rather dishonest propaganda designed to use the innocent and misinformed public as sheep blindly following the wrong leader?
    I know is not easy to distinguish truth from lies but today anyone with a computer, connected to the internet, can easily do their own historical research and also pluck out the deceiving rubbish finding out whom we should really trust.

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