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One month after 11-J

'The Government can no longer speak on behalf of the Cuban people'

Were the 11-J protests an isolated event? Were the Government's "crumbs" enough to appease the people? What lies ahead? Two protesters and a Cuban dissident offer DIARIO DE CUBA their takes.

Protests in Havana on July 11.
Protests in Havana on July 11. AP

It has been a month since the 11-J protests and several questions are still hanging in the air: were they an isolated phenomenon? Were the Government's crumbs enough to appease the people? What lies ahead? Two protesters and a Cuban dissident offer DIARIO DE CUBA their perspectives

Javier L. Mora, a writer and collaborator with this paper, demonstrated on July 11 and was subsequently arrested. He does not think that "the wave of popular discontent" that led to the protests has subsided.

"In fact, if we think about it with that same maritime image, I think it will be just that: a wave that now seems to have receded, but that is only turning on itself, poised to return with greater force." He does not believe that the government measures will "silence the cry for reform on 11-J" and placate a dissatisfied people.

He acknowledges that Cubans' main concern at this time is health, due to "the collapse of the health system in the face of Covid, its shortcomings and inefficiencies (...) and the impotence of doctors who have nothing more to offer."

The Covid-19 pandemic is the Cuban Government's Chernobyl

"For now, Cubans have returned to the trenches of social media. When they will emerge from them, into public spaces, and how they will do so, is something that no one can say," explains Mora.

The writer believes that by labelling the protests as "disturbances organized from abroad, viewing them through a prism of classism, and dismissing the protestors as 'delinquents,' and then, driven by its misguided ideological instincts, as 'confused' revolutionaries," the Government demonstrated that it does not understand "the multiple and long-standing causes" of 11-J.

In his view the Covid-19 pandemic is for the Cuban Government what the Chernobyl disaster was for the former USSR, which "underestimated that catastrophe and, due to the endemic arrogance of the system, did not permit assistance from and collaboration with Western nations."

"Now the Caribbean medical power is making useless feints and dodges, calling the current health situation 'complex.' This will prevent serious and organized medical aid from reaching the island from around the world. The future is, therefore, uncertain, but the balance will no longer be in favor of the country's administrative apparatus, especially now that Cubans are feeling their total defenselessness, even in terms of health, vis a vis the system."

San Antonio de los Baños was a kind of Fuenteovejuna

Playwright  Yunior García participated in a peaceful demonstration in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) on July 11 and was detained for almost 48 hours. He sees the events of that day as "a social explosion that (...) all Cuban society knew was going to happen sooner or later."

He was surprised by "the number of people who decided to demonstrate that day, and the number of cities that rose up at the same time. San Antonio de los Baños was a kind of Fuenteovejuna".

The artist points out that the shouts in the streets that day were about more than just the shortages of medicines and food, and the situation with the pandemic. "People were shouting 'Freedom' and invoking concepts that have to do with political and social rights. This represents a turning point with respect to other specific, smaller-scale demonstrations that had occurred previously."

He believes that Cubans decided to tell the Government that "the social pact that we had has expired , and it is time to sit down and establish a new one."

He describes the Government’s reaction as "mediocre," and considers the times when "the personal charisma of a leader tilted the scale" are now over.

He describes those currently running the Government in Cuba as "individuals who have done nothing else in their lives than to meet and make bad decisions."

"The model has failed, from the economic and political points of view," he declared, and called the measures taken after 11-J insufficient. "It?s not about small measures that resolve certain situations, but rather about structural changes" to guarantee the country's development and citizens' freedoms and rights.

The playwright sees the Government’s call for a fight "between Cubans, between civilians" as irresponsible. In his opinion it reveals "the violent and abusive nature" of those now in power. "After 11-J, whoever wants to hold on to a romantic idea of what is going on in Cuba is very similar, in nature, to those in the regime."

When comparing the 11-J protests to those that occurred in August 1994, he observes that the latter only occurred in Havana, and was pacified  "thanks to the opening of borders, as people were able to emigrate."

He also mentions that, unlike then, many of those who demonstrated between July 11 and 13 "do not want to emigrate. They want to change the reality of the country in which they were born."

García is one of the young people who went to the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020, to appeal for dialogue, something that the Government has still refused to engage in. He predicts that it will probably be too late when it finally decides to give in, due to the people's growing contempt for those who govern and the official media's lost credibility.

The role of the opposition and civil society

Contrary to the impression the Government has sought to transmit, the 11-J protests lacked leadership from Cuba's community of dissenters or civil society.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, vice-president of the Council for Democratic Transition in Cuba, believes that if someone in the opposition, or civil society, sensing the nation's unrest, had attempted to organize a protest, "it never would have happened."

"For me the important thing is that this was an authentic, national, grassroots, spontaneous protest, which would have foundered if the opposition had tried to lead it," he says.

He believes that the opposition and Cuban civil society "play a more key role today" than when they emerged, because "for the first time there would be the possibility of finding true social support for the different alternatives that the opposition has been advancing."

"Since 2018, there has been somewhat of a revolution within Cuban society," he says, referring to the "virtual demands and protests" of young people, "artivists," animal rights activists, and filmmakers, which reflected "a change in mentality."

The 11-J protests constitute, for him, "the culmination of a very important phase in the development of social majorities," which, for the first time, are not organized by and do not respond to the logic of the State, but rather to that of society. "The Government can no longer speak on behalf of the people."

By using force, Cuesta Morúa says, the regime lost a legitimacy that it will not recover with the measures it is taking, which are "disconnected from the demands."

"The fundamental demands were political, not economic," he says. Although he recognizes that the protests broke out "due to the economic situation in the country," he points out that now "Cuban society has identified the root of all its social, economic and political problems." This explains the success of "the anthem Patria y Vida, and the demands for freedom." The idea that "these were protests of freedom, and not hunger" has come to permeate social media, he notes.

Cuban society's journey "towards change" is "irreversible," he asserts. "I think what should happen now is to translate the social uprising into a political proposal. This is something that has to be led, coordinated and activated by civil society."

"At the Council for Democratic Transition we have already released a 50-point plan, an economic proposal, that is open to debate. We will unveil a political strategy soon."

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