On February 24 the Ordinary Official Gazette No. 20 published Agreement 8999/2021 of the Council of Ministers, which set down a new and comprehensive expansion of the "Zones and Roads of Interest for the Security and Internal Order in Havana." The document, in short, guarantees draconian security in the area where Cuba's powerful elite usually lives, works and moves about. It also creates a legal justification to quash any type of protest in front of ministries or state institutions.
The text mentions several districts and some specific roads in the capital that will become a sort of "special" or "secure" zones, controlled in an absolute manner by the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). These areas are: Siboney-Atabey, Cubanacán, La Coronela, Plaza, Vedado, Príncipe, Colón-Nuevo Vedado, Ceiba-Kholy, Vedado-Malecón, Sevillano, Tallapiedra and very specific roads in the municipalities of Marianao, La Lisa and Boyeros.
The Agreement does not offer any explanation as to why, overnight, so many places have become areas of special interest with reference to security and internal order. Official media remained mum on the decision, and limited themselves to reproducing the text in its entirety. The story, except for in some independent Cuban media, went relatively overlooked.
What does the Agreement 8999/2021 show?
First, that Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz has been very active in recent months, reaching agreements left and right, perhaps like in no other year. In 2020, for example, the Council of Ministers published its last agreement on December 10, number 8959 of the year.
Second, that the political elite of the regime has created a kind of city within a city, with very precise and restrictive laws for their exclusive well-being and security. Agreement 8999/2021 does not clarify this, but it explicitly refers to MININT Resolution 13/2015, which indicates the characteristics that define the areas and roads of interest for security and internal order.
Resolution 13/2015 states that any activity carried out in these areas and on these routes must be previously agreed to by the MININT, and be authorized by means of a permit that will be granted or denied within 20 business days. These activities can range from political, to athletic, to religious (held in public spaces), to the changing of buildings, homes or properties; the opening of businesses; and any type of technical installation, construction, maintenance or repair actions at individual or state properties.
What does Agreement 8999/2021 not say?
In general, the laws imposed by the regime conceal more than what they reveal, sometimes because they are convoluted and ambiguous, and sometimes because they are so succinct. To interpret the intention behind them, a second reading is almost always advisable to shed light on the issues at hand. In the case of this Agreement, doing so is a must.
On August 10, 2019, about 200 users of the Havana Street Network spontaneously gathered, catching State Security off guard, in front of the Ministry of Communications to demand the maintenance of the wireless network. A second protest was scheduled at the same site, but the police acted efficiently to prevent it.
On November 27, 2020, a group of artists and intellectuals stood outside the Ministry of Culture to protest the violent eviction to which the activists who had been staying at the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement were subjected. In a matter of hours, the small demonstration had grown into one backed by hundreds of people, many of them representatives of Cuban culture. The use of pepper spray, the deliberate cutting off of certain Internet services, and the repression to which the organizers of that event were subsequently subjected, did not prevent another protest on January 27, 2021 in the same place.
On February 19, a group of animal rights activists held a protest in front of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) to demand the immediate approval of the promised Decree Law on Animal Welfare. Although at first things seemed to be getting out of control, MINAGRI authorities acted prudently and chose dialogue over another media event that would highlight the repressive nature of the regime.
The above timeline is no accident. Rather, it illustrates how demonstrations in front of ministries are taking root in Cuban civil society as a method of protest. Thus, putting an end to precisely this is one of the objectives that Agreement 8999/2021 seems to pursue by placing the areas where all the country's ministries are located under the MININT's authority.
Other areas and roads declared of interest with regards to security and internal order are, at first glance, less clear. But, following the logic of Cuban laws, it suffices to take a good look at what these places are to understand what the Government is up to by turning them into special high-security zones.
The homes of the country's political and military elite are located in districts like Siboney-Atabey, Kholy and Nuevo Vedado. If there were any doubt as to whether the pattern was well calculated, the fact that Agreement 8999/2021 includes specific avenues in municipalities like Marianao and Lisa confirms that the regime’s aim is, in fact, to protect leaders and their relatives from any popular protests.
If we were to locate the aforementioned areas on a map of Havana, and connect them to those where the ministries and main state institutions are located, there would be certain blank spaces, but the Marianao, La Lisa and Boyeros roads mentioned in the Agreement round out this daily route of the regime's elite, tracing a path from their homes to their usual workplaces, including the José Martí International Airport.
Other avenues covered in this Agreement stand out for their marked tourism-related interest for the Government. One of them is the coastal strip of Vedado, where the Government has undertaken a series of construction projects to fill the area with luxury hotels. With a stroke of a pen, the regime has moved to protect itself by banning all kinds of citizen demonstrations in the capital.
There is simply no longer any room for anything that could endanger the political and military elite, and the image of the tropical paradise that it seeks to sell to tourists and foreign visitors. With a simple text, in addition, the limitation of an endless number of citizen rights has become law, creating an exclusive thoroughfare on which Sandro Castro, perhaps, can drive her Mercedes Benz without being disturbed.