Ed Agustín (The Guardian) reports on artists such as Cuban playwright Yunior García, who has become the face of Archipelago, a largely online opposition group which is planning a string of pro-democracy marches. Agustín writes that the Communist party has banned the planned marches, saying they are an overthrow attempt.
The Cuban playwright Yunior García has shot to fame over the past year, but not because of his art. The 39-year old has become the face of Archipelago, a largely online opposition group which is planning a string of pro-democracy marches across the island on Monday.
The Communist party has banned the protests – which coincide with the reopening of the country after 20 months of coronavirus lockdowns – arguing that they are a US-backed attempt to overthrow the government.
García and other organisers say the protest is simply to demand basic rights for all Cubans. Over syrupy black coffee and strong cigarettes in the living room of his Havana home, García said he hoped to channel the “peaceful rebelliousness” that he believes all Cubans have inside them. “I believe in a diverse country and I think we have to completely do away with the one-party system which limits too many individual rights,” he said.
Such talk is anathema to Cuba’s rulers who are already struggling to contain a simmering social crisis which earlier this year triggered the largest anti-government protests for decades.
Supercharged US sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic, a surge in social media use and a younger generation hungry for change have left the Communist party reeling.The Biden administration has continued with Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, which since 2017 has hammered the island with more than 200 sanctions aimed at choking hard currency inflows.
The result has been an economic crisis that rivals the so-called Special Period, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“The Special Period was a piece of cake compared to this,” said Umberto Molina, 71, waiting in line outside a pharmacy. “There was medicine and you didn’t have these never-ending queues.”
In July, mounting frustrations exploded on to the streets in an unprecedented rash of protests – and a hardening of positions. Cuban special forces beat demonstrators and hundreds were imprisoned. Washington responded by imposing new sanctions.
“When the Cuban government feels more threatened by the US, its tolerance for internal dissidence goes down,” said William LeoGrande, professor of government at American University in Washington DC. “All governments, when they feel under attack, become less tolerant of internal opposition,” he added, pointing to the US Patriot Act following 9/11.
This week, the foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, vowed that the protests would not go ahead. “We will not allow it,” he said. “We will use our laws, our constitution and the strictest adherence to the principles of our socialist state of law and social justice.”
On Thursday, García, said that he would march in silence and holding a white rose on Sunday, but it was not clear if this amounted to a scaling back of Monday’s protests.
“We are not willing to have a single drop of blood spilled, on either side of this conflict,” García said in a Facebook post.
In his interview, García, 39, said he was well aware of the risks he was facing.
“History is full of people who have gone to prison for struggling for their rights,” García said, offering José Martí, the 19th-century Cuban intellectual and independence fighter, as an example.
Like Martí, García says he opposes “foreign interference” in Cuban affairs. But while Martí saw the US as a “monster” to be kept at bay, García takes a different tack.
After he met with the head of the US embassy in Havana and a former US army captain, the Communist party released video of the encounter, and labelled García a “political operative”.
García said he discussed censorship on the island and the US embargo (which he opposes), but he denied taking advice. Nobody in Archipelago, he said, takes so much as “a cent” from foreign governments.Tolerance of dissent on the island, which increased under Obama years, is nosediving. Activists say more than 600 are still in prison. [. . .]
[Yunior García, actor, playwright, and leader of Archipelago, an opposition group planning a string of pro-democracy marches across Cuba. Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters.]