The call to demonstrate on June 30 against police violence and racism in Cuba managed to convene a significant number and diverse range of civil society actors and organizations. In this sense, it was successful. However, repressive forces managed to largely foil the demonstration, resulting in some 50 detainees and 84 house arrests.
Two lessons can be learned from what happened.
The first has to do with the logistical aspect. Does it make sense to announce such a protest publicly, on social media, in a country like Cuba? It is true that not doing so entails the possibility of limited turnout. But, if such promotion is opted for, perhaps measures should be considered to mitigate the risk of preventive arrests: leaving homes in advance, or not sleeping at them the night before the event (as one dissident who did make it to Yara did), or sending some activists as decoys to distract the Police, might avert the repeated scenes of people being prevented from leaving their homes, or detained right at their front doors.
The second lesson is related to the message of the event. If what you want is to reach the people, it would be a good idea to assess what is really going to rally them, fearful and caught up with concerns related to their daily survival. How can we get Cubans to identify so that they put aside the problems that plague them and join in?
Many citizens are outraged by the death of the young Hansel Ernesto Hernández at the hands of the police. Unfortunately, they do not know about the political prisoner Silverio Portal, or the fate of the more than 100 other political prisoners whose liberation was also demanded at the demonstration. Focusing the message on demanding justice for Hansel's death would not only have made it more effectual, tying the demand to a cause with popular roots, but would have made it possible to invite actors to speak out against the alleged murder; people who, for various reasons, would not back a protest for the freedom of political prisoners. Honing the message better would have made it more effective.
As on so many other occasions, the activists who struggled to march demonstrated great courage, and a commitment to human rights in the country. Accompanied by strategic planning, however, their actions would be much more effective.
At this point, we know that the Cuban regime remains repressive, hostile to freedom. Beyond condemning that repression, the challenge is to manage to demonstrate against it. The search for media impact is beginning to prove insufficient for the cause of democracy and human rights on the island. What happened in the wake of the march against police violence in the country should serve as a lesson for the future.