August 1, 2011
By Otto Reich, The Miami Herald
In Guantánamo, Cuba, an important eastern city near the eponymous Naval Base, the streets recently reverberated with shouts of “Down with Fidel! Down with Raúl!” and “The streets belong to the people!” as dozens marched in open defiance of the iron-fisted rule of the Castro brothers. Even the physical attacks hurled by the regime’s paid thugs did not prevent the march from continuing.
Over the past few months similar protests have taken place across cities and towns throughout the island. What do they portend?
To most people, popular uprisings against dictatorships appear spontaneous because they capture our attention at their moment of fruition, when massive crowds in public plazas attract television cameras. In truth, uprisings are the result of many years of individuals struggling to overcome personal fear, and of tenacious organizational work by small groups.
Resistance networks that grow through repressed societies act like arteries that arouse a subjugated people, a key event or moment serving as the critical spark, the catalyst for the awakening. The death last year of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an Afro-Cuban bricklayer, perpetrated by the authorities’ denial of water for 18 days in an attempt to force him to stop a hunger strike, set off a wave of street protests and hunger strikes. International condemnation forced the dictatorship to release hundreds of political prisoners. Many of those released were pressured into exile, but a hard core of political prisoners chose to remain on the island, their leadership qualities thereby growing exponentially in the eyes of the population.
The Castro dictatorship is once more trying to stem the growth of such resistance in Cuba through persecution and brutality because popular demonstrations, unprecedented in number and message, have erupted throughout the island, among them:
• On March 24, citizens in the central city of Santa Clara blocked traffic to protest the arbitrary arrests of peaceful activists.
• On March 28, resistance members demonstrated at Havana’s historic capitol building for the release of all political prisoners, an action timed to coincide with a visit by former President Jimmy Carter.
• Demonstrations again took place in Central Cuba during the run-up to the Communist Party Congress in April, despite heightened surveillance.
• May saw a 13 day-long “Boitel and Zapata Live!” memorial, a series of nonviolent actions commemorating martyrs in the anti-communist resistance struggle. It started with nationwide pots and pans protests and continued with marches and meetings.
The resistance also responded to the murder of activist Juan Wilfredo Soto García by joining the Guantánamo march and demonstrating in the central city of Placetas, where in a separate action, women activists carried out a sit-in in the lobby of the government-controlled radio station demanding to state their perspective on the murder of Soto García.
Scores of people turned Soto García’s funeral in the streets of the central province capital of Santa Clara into a demonstration calling for the end of the Castro regime and freedom for all Cubans.
The protesters are young, many of them black, most of them poor and from the provinces. Coalesced in the Cuban National Civic Resistance Front, the island’s new resistance movement rises from a marginalized population that derives strength from the social bonds of family and friendship harnessed under the duress of decades of economic exploitation, criminal persecution, political imprisonment and ideological discrimination by its own government. These brave Cubans have nothing to lose — not freedom nor material goods, for there is neither on the island. They fight for liberty and for restored natural rights.
The struggle of Cuba’s democratic resistance is lonely and hard. Not only do they face a vicious regime’s police brutality, but an indifferent world and a Catholic hierarchy too close to the regime (as information revealed on Wikileaks corroborated). Leftist international leaders — typified by Spain’s Prime Minster José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — who put ideological predilection and commercial interests above human rights, and shamelessly coddle Castro’s decrepit tyranny, prolong the repression.
But the Cubans will regain their freedom. And when Cuba’s plazas are filled with crowds clamoring for, or celebrating, the removal of the dictatorship, no one should be surprised and say they were not warned as to when the awakening began.