Cuba is going through one of its most difficult times in recent years. There is a growing economic crisis in addition to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In an unprecedented move, thousands of Cubans took to the streets on Sunday to protest the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel as well as U.S. policies against the country. The protests led to police action.
On Tuesday morning, Latino Rebels spoke with Claudia Genlui, art curator and leader of the San Isidro Movement, which in November 2020 held another unprecedented demonstration to demand the release of rapper Denis Solis. The leader of this movement and Claudia’s partner, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, was arrested on Sunday.
Latino Rebels: What has been happening since Sunday?
Claudia Genlui: Well, to understand a little bit of what is happening in Cuba, we have to understand the context. First of all, there is a worsening of the economic crisis caused by this pandemic and secondly, by bad management on the part of the government to satisfy the basic needs of the people in Cuba, something that has been happening for a long time. It has reached its peak because of everything with this pandemic that we are living.
LR: The pandemic was the catalyst…
CG: There has been an excessive increase of cases in the city of Matanzas. The situation got out of hand. There were people giving information about overcrowding in hospital corridors, people in their homes with the bodies of their dead relatives. The lack of medicine, although it is something that is not new, has been going on for almost a year. There is a great shortage of medicine in Cuba and I am talking about basic medicine, such as controlled medicine for people with hypertension or chronic diseases who need it.
LR: This is not the first time that Cuba has had a crisis. Why are people taking to the streets this time?
CG: We must also understand what happened in November 2020 in the protests of the San Isidro Movement in front of the Ministry of Culture. There were almost 600 people, which was unprecedented in recent years and we showed that we could take the public space spontaneously. I think that the worsening of this whole economic crisis made our discontent explode on Sunday. The Cuban people can’t take it anymore. We have nowhere to go. Every day that goes by, a measure is imposed that the only thing it does is to suffocate us more. And I believe that somehow the outbreak was totally spontaneous.
LR: No organization or leaders are behind this?
CG: For example, we are the San Isidro Movement, one of the movements with more voice among the people right now, with more reach and more influence. We knew nothing about it. I mean, Luis Manuel was here with me in the house and we woke up with the news. There were a lot of people in the street. We never imagined it.
It was something that emerged spontaneously. The fear was broken after the indoctrination we have been living through for years. It is not as Díaz-Canel says that the streets belong to the revolutionaries, that is a mistake. The streets are a public space belonging to the people…
LR: How was Luis Manuel arrested?
CG: We didn’t know anything. We were here in the house when we were woken up by a phone call and messages from people. Then, at the moment he gets super excited. Luis Manuel made a statement on behalf of the San Isidro Movement, saying that we should also go out to the streets peacefully to demand our rights. When he and other friends went out, they were stopped and detained. He is in Villa Marista prison and [Monday] they called his uncle to ask him to bring him some personal belongings. Something that worries me because this may be an indicator that they are planning to keep him detained.
LR: You can’t communicate either …
CG: We have very little access to information throughout the island because all communications have been cut off. We still do not have access to the internet. It has been very complicated to find out what is happening outside Havana. What worries me the most right now is the repressive wave that is coming especially on those political prisoners. I feel fear right now for what can happen to us because we are at risk right now. If the president has said they are going to increase repression—also that the protests are supported by imperialism. That is a lie.
LR: What are you asking of the United States?
CG: Support. Right now we need support. All of us who think differently, feel isolated and alone or that we have no more strength. We need to look after all the political prisoners, they are part of the civil society and they are fundamental pillars to continue with this struggle.
What is your dream for Cuba?
CG: Cuba needs a presidential and economic change. I imagine a democratic Cuba, a different Cuba where the rights of everyone are respected. We need freedom in the state, decentralization of power. Evidently, the Cuban government is not satisfying the political needs of a people who are sinking deeper into poverty every day.
Juanita Ramos Ardila is a Colombian journalist who has written for El Tiempo and ColPrensa. An M.A. Journalism candidate at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, Juanita is also Latino Rebels’ 2021 Summer Correspondent. Twitter: @JuanitaRamosA.