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Cuba's historic protests shook the regime — but its response has shaken human rights observers

NO TENEMOS MIEDO Cubans march through Havana on Sunday protesting their communist regime in nationwide demonstrations of unprecedented size and anger.
Eliana Aponte
/
AP
Cubans march through Havana on July 11, 2021, protesting their communist regime in nationwide demonstrations of unprecedented size and anger.

Cubans had never confronted their communist regime as boldly as they did on July 11, 2021. But officials have cracked down harshly — prompting a mass exodus.

Monday marks a year since Cubans marched across the island in unprecedented anti-government protests. The July 11 uprising shook the communist regime — but the regime's harsh response since then has shaken the international human rights community.

It has often been called the “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life) protest because one of its engines was a protest anthem of the same name that Cuban rappers had recorded earlier in the year.

They were taking an angry poke at the Cuban regime’s dismal slogan “Homeland or Death.” And it rallied Cubans to shout for reforms and an end to their dictatorship. The pandemic had made their economic collapse even deeper — finding food, medicine and other basic goods was and still is a daily struggle — and a dissident artists movement called San Isidro had convinced them to demand free-speech rights.

Using the social media they’d recently acquired, Cubans called each other out to the streets in waves the regime had never seen since the Cuban Revolution took power in 1959. One of their chants: “We’re not afraid anymore!”

But the rattled regime reacted swiftly and severely. It arrested more than a thousand protesters and has given hundreds of them — even teenagers — lengthy prison sentences, as much as 25 to 30 years.

The international rights group Human Rights Watch said last week the regime has “systematically” violated those Cubans’ rights.

The Biden Administration has sanctioned Cuban officials responsible for the crackdown. But the response of many Cubans has been simply to leave the island. Since last summer a record number of them have shown up at the U.S. southern border and off the Florida coast.

On Monday, Miami's Cuban community will hold a number of commemorative events in support of Cuba's protesters, including a march up Southwest Eighth Street (Calle Ocho) in Little Havana in the evening.
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Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.