Following the most widespread demonstrations since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959, Cubans are bracing for a new aftershock: mass trials of those who dared to take to the streets calling for change.
The trials have already begun, less than three weeks after the unprecedented anti-government demonstrations began. Those proceedings, predictably, result in quick convictions.
Thousands of Cubans poured into the streets of Havana this month, many chanting “liberty” and “homeland and life,” a reference to a viral anti-government song, according to photographer Anyelo Troya, who was out running errands at the time.
Troya, who had already angered Cuban officials by filming a portion of the music video for that vehement anti-government anthem, rushed to the protests with his camera.
“He was arrested right away,” Raisa Gonzalez, his mother, told CNN. “He didn’t even get a chance to take a photo.”
Troya was put on trial with a dozen other protesters the following week and found guilty of inciting unrest. Troya’s mother said he asked to speak to the judges at his sentencing, where he was given a year in prison.
His mother said he told the court he did nothing wrong, asking, “How is this just when I haven’t even seen a lawyer and I am innocent?” Raisa Gonzalez added, “Immediately one of the police in civilian clothes came and handcuffed him. I said, ‘My love be calm, you are not alone.'”
Cuban officials have refused to say how many people were arrested as a result of the island-wide demonstrations, which came as the Cuban government grappled with rising food shortages and coronavirus cases.
According to the exile organization Cubalex, which has been tracking the arrests, nearly 700 Cubans have been detained since the protests began on July 26. Officials in Cuba have stated that some of the protesters who were detained are being released. The number of those released, according to Cubalex, is 157.
Some protesters’ relatives, who did not want to be identified, told CNN that their relatives were arrested simply for being in the street during the demonstrations or for filming them. Many young Cubans had never witnessed protests of this magnitude before.
Cuban officials, stung by accusations that their crackdown on protesters violates basic civil liberties, claimed that due process was being followed and that some demonstrators had destroyed property and attacked police.
“Having different opinions, including political ones, doesn’t constitute a crime,” said Rubén Remigio Ferro, the president of the Supreme People’s Court of Cuba, at a press conference. “Thinking differently, questioning what’s going on. To demonstrate is not a crime, it’s a right granted by the constitution…We are not troglodytes.”
In practice, however, officials regard any calls for a change in Cuba’s Communist monopoly on power — where opposition parties are outlawed — as a threat to the country’s existence.