Hundreds of people marched in Spain’s capital Madrid Sunday to demand “human rights for Cubans” during a demonstration marking the first anniversary of the protests in Cuba.
Police reported that some 250 people participated in the march. They also asked for freedom for political prisoners.
“The tentacles of the Cuban regime are very wide,” said Cuban émigré Yadira Dobarganes, who criticized what she called the “false and lying leftists.” Among her demands was that Cubans have the right to return to the island, alluding to the complaints about the restrictions imposed by Havana on some people who are prevented from returning to the country for political reasons.
VOA found emigrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua among the protesters who chanted slogans. “No more dictatorship,” “Democracy for Cuba now,” and “SOS Cuba,” read some of the posters.
Some politicians also attended, such as Rocío Monasterio, a VOX party member of the Assembly of Madrid.
The demonstration took place almost a year after July 11, 2021, when thousands of Cubans took to the streets, from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, frustrated by months of crisis, restrictions, a lack of medicine, and other resources to put a stop to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their demands called for vaccines and “freedom.”
It was the first massive demonstration in decades on the island with a one-party political system and communist government, where dissenters are usually sentenced to long prison sentences. To date, human rights organizations inside and outside the country have reported that more than 1,000 protesters have been arrested or imprisoned. The government reported that it had criminally prosecuted 380 people for crimes of sedition, sabotage, robbery with force, violence and others.
Those who echoed the protests on social networks were threatened and ordered to delete the publications that showed the discontent and the magnitude of the protests.
Many were arrested, including teenagers, who have been brought to trial and sentenced to prison terms.
The government of Miguel Díaz-Canel then asked his followers to take to the streets to respond to the protesters, claiming that many were “confused” and pointed to the United States government to encourage the protests that shook the island. The island government also said that the goal was to “destabilize” the socialist system that had been in place for decades.
“The combat order is given,” Díaz-Canel said in an intervention on state television a year ago.
Havana blames the U.S. embargo for the economic crisis it has faced for decades and which has worsened in recent years. Some of those who dissent say mismanagement and the Cuban political system has the Caribbean island in crisis.
Law to criminalize protest
In August 2021, the government approved Decree-Law 35, aimed at content or messages that Havana considers to be false, offensive news or that may incite acts “that disturb public order.” Under the law, anyone who tries to “subvert the constitutional order” will be considered a cyberterrorist.
In Madrid, Cuban singer and activist Yotuel Romero led the march that ended in the popular Plaza Cibeles.
“It has been incredible, few people expected because today is Sunday, yesterday was the day of gay pride. … We have to continue ‘positions and connected,'” said Romero, one of the authors of the song “Patria y Vida,” which served as inspiration and motto for the demands for democratic changes in Cuba.
“I have come to protest and ask for the freedom that the Cuban people deserve,” Armando López, who was wearing a hat decorated with a Cuban flag , told VOA.
Other demonstrations are expected to take place on Monday in Spanish cities such as Barcelona, Seville and Saragoza.