The government of Miguel Díaz-Canel reacted promptly. The acceleration of the plan for economic reforms agreed two years ago, the opening of new negotiating spaces for the participation of social actors and the “peaceful recognition and management of divergent opinions” want to be taken seriously by the party and the government as immediate challenges. On the one hand, Díaz-Canel called for further support for the socialist social system, which establishes the 2019 Constitution as “irrevocable”, but on the other hand announced a package of economic measures aimed essentially at alleviating food shortages and expanding protection for socially vulnerable families.
From Monday 19 July, a derogation also came into effect until 31 December 2021, allowing Cubans or foreigners travelling to the island to bring food, medicines, medical supplies and toiletries in their luggage without any limit and tax. Another of the measures announced on 16 July is to help more than 200,000 people who for various reasons do not have access to food to secure this access through food cards. The food or rationing cards created in 1962 by the revolutionary government as a distribution lever ensured citizens a monthly basic food basket of rice, sugar, cereals, coffee, oil and animal protein, which did not cover the entire food requirement, but at least provided relief for low-income households and socially vulnerable groups. Thus, the rationing cards abolished in the course of economic reforms under President Rául Castro are partially or temporarily reintroduced.
Auch die Auszahlung von Gehältern in Staatsbetrieben soll flexibilisiert werden, um Effizienz und Produktivität zu steigern. Nach offiziellen Angaben sollen ebenso im Verlauf der kommenden Wochen die seit langem angekündigten gesetzlichen Bestimmungen zum Schutz kleiner und mittelständischer, sowohl staatlicher wie privater Unternehmen in Kraft treten. “Die Maßnahmen sind positiv, wir sollten aber keine Wunder von ihnen erwarten, weil sie den angesammelten Bedarf nicht decken”, warnte der auch auf Regierungsseite angesehene kubanische Ökonom Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva gegenüber der Nachrichtenagentur Inter Press Service/IPS.
The other, but more delicate, consequences of the protests are genuinely political.
Self-criticism and dialogue: the immediate political consequences of the protests
During the demonstrations of July 11 and 12 in – depending on the source-19 to 40 Cuban cities, thousands, not only young people, but enraged citizens took to the streets with demands for political and economic change. However, not one hundred percent peaceful, as the majority of the Western media said, but with violence against police and pro-government civilians and with vandalism against shops and vehicles. The Ministry of Justice and the Interior pledged to apply “the law with adequate procedural guarantees” against those arrested, the number of whom varies up to ten times, depending on the source.
According to CNN there were “over 100” on July 13, 500 arrested according to the updated data of the Spanish newspaper La Razón on July 20, the latest report of Amnesty International on July 22 does not give a number at all, but the Cuban portal 14YMedio made bombastic statements: “more than 5,000 arrested, including activists and journalists”. Footnote: 14YMedio suffers from a lack of credibility. The medium is edited by the opposition Cuban activist, star blogger and long-time presenter of Deutsche Welle TV, Yoani Sánchez, and her husband Reinaldo Escobar, who has been arrested several times.
Among those arrested are the photographer Anyelo Troya González and the artist and leader of the San Isidro movement, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. Others, such as the dramaturge Yunior Garcia Aguilera, have been the target of surveillance, Internet blocking and warnings. 14YMedio had shocked the public with the manipulation attempt, that the arrested were “abducted by the police” , i.e. " disappeared”; it is still a term of horror in South America as a whole, because it recalls the worst, tens of thousands of human rights crimes committed by the right-wing military dictatorships and is completely out of place for describing the events in Cuba. In reality, however, the majority of those arrested were taken to the Cuarta Estación police station and from there to Unit 100 y Aldabó.
The government of Díaz-Canel had assured the perpetrators of the application of the law with proper legal procedures. But the portal El Toque-promoted in 2014 as a project of the Latin America department of the former Radio Nederland Wereldomroep – reported that Troya González and 10 other detainees were sentenced on July 21 by a court in an emergency trial; a process in which people whose sentence does not exceed one year of imprisonment can be brought to justice in less than 20 days. The photographer was sentenced to one year of imprisonment for “disturbing public order”, while of the remaining eleven defendants allegedly only two were allowed to appoint a lawyer, commented El Toque.
“People demand concrete results in the short term. We have to save the most important thing, the project, and for this we have to overcome certain, existing ideas in the Cuban economic model,” warned economist Omar Everleny Díaz Villanueva.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel did not escape the mood. Already on Saturday, July 17, in a speech during a pro-government march on Havana’s Malecón waterfront, he called for" necessary self-criticism “and a"deep review of our methods and working styles, which collide with the will to serve the people, because the bureaucracy, the obstacles and the insensitivity of some do so much damage”. Two days later, during a meeting with members of the Council of Ministers and authorities of the 15 provinces of Cuba, the head of state and party leader called for “spaces for debate on the most complex issues”. “Different participants should submit proposals and evaluate the possibility of their implementation.”
Is serious domestic political dialogue really taking place in Cuba?
Cuba’s most prominent writer Leonardo Padura and songwriter Sílvio Rodríguez open the debate
The world-renowned Cuban composer and singer Sílvio Rodríguez, a committed but critical supporter of the Castro Revolution, pleaded for an amnesty for the non-violent protesters after meeting with several defendants. The artist, who still calls himself a Marxist, reported on a meeting initiated by Yunior García Aguilera, in which his wife and the film producer Dayana Prieto were also involved, and wrote: “The meeting with Yunior and Dayana was good, I do not exaggerate when I say fraternally, there was dialogue, exchange, we listened to each other attentively and respectfully”. The most painful thing in this conversation, according to the author of several classics of the Cuban trova genre, was “to hear that, as a generation, they no longer felt part of the Cuban process, but something else… They explained to me their arguments, their frustration”, lamented Rodríguez, demanding: “There must be more bridges, there must be more dialogue, there must be less prejudice, less desire to strike blows and more desire to overcome the mountain of pending economic and political issues”.
Immediately after the protests, Leonardo Padura published an appeal in Spanish and Latin American media with the title “A cry” and a dramatic appeal for immediate socio-economic solutions and political dialogue, the main passages of which call for constructive action. He wrote:
“It seems very possible that everything that has happened in Cuba since July 11 has been encouraged or even paid for by a greater or lesser number of people who oppose the system to destabilize the country and create chaos and insecurity. It is also true that later, as often happens in these events, there were opportunistic and deplorable acts of vandalism. But I don’t think any of the evidence is beyond the scope of the cry we’ve heard. A cry that is also the result of the despair of a society that is going through not only a long economic crisis and a punctual sanitary crisis, but also a crisis of confidence and a loss of expectation.”
“To this desperate demand, the Cuban authorities should not respond with the usual slogans, repeated for years, and the answers they want to hear. Nor with explanations, however convincing and necessary they may be. What is on the agenda are offers of solutions that many citizens expect or demand, some of which demonstrate on the street, others express their opinion, disappointment or rejection on social networks. Many are the few and devalued pesos , which they carry in their impoverished pockets. Many, many more are there, in resigned silence for hours in the sun or rain, even during the pandemic, which form queues at food markets and for the purchase of medicines in front of pharmacies. Standing in line for our daily bread and for everything imaginable and necessary.”
“However, apart from all of the above, I believe that Cubans need to regain hope and get an idea of their future. When hope is lost, the meaning of any humanistic social project is lost. And hope is not won back by force. It can only be recovered with those solutions and the changes and social dialogues that, because they have not been implemented, have caused, among many other devastating effects, the emigration instinct of so many Cubans and have now given rise to the cry of despair of the people. Among these people, some were certainly hired against the government, opportunistic criminals were also acting, but I cannot believe that there should be so many people in my country at the moment, so many native and educated Cubans among us who sell themselves or commit crimes. Because if it were, it would mean that the existing social system would have encouraged these excesses.”
The spontaneous decision-without being tied to a leadership, without receiving anything in return, not even to steal something on the way-with which a considerable number of people demonstrated on the street and in the networks should be a warning. And I think it is also an alarming example of the alienation that became visible between the leading political spheres and the street . And that is the only way to explain what has happened, especially in a country where almost everything is known, if – as we all know – you want to know. To convince and reassure the desperate, violence and darkness cannot be the method for solutions, such as the blocking of the Internet, which has interrupted the communication of many for days, yet has not hindered the connections of those who want to say something for or against. Much less can the violent reaction, especially against nonviolent people, be used as a convincing argument. And it is well known that violence cannot only be physical."
The “Mafia in Florida” and other scenarios
However, Díaz – Canel did not exaggerate in his assessment of the central aspect of the protests besides the causes – namely the remote control already mentioned by Padura-when he claimed that " we can dismantle the so – called fake news, break down the lies, show how the entire upside – down reality of Cuba was invented in virtual spaces, but they have already caused immeasurable damage to the national soul, which is one of its most sacred values-civil peace, coexistence, solidarity and unity. We are, in fact, exposed to the sophisticated fire of a cyber war that counts cyberterrorism and media terrorism among its aggressive instruments."
Studies by various international experts on the so-called “social networks” document that, in fact, powerful levers of the US government and the radical right-wing Cuban diaspora in Florida, as well as trolls and bots in Europe, tried to control the protests with an intense digital attack; in the words of the Díaz-Canel government, an attack aimed at “promoting unrest and instability in the country”, defined as “a tool of unconventional warfare”.
Johana Tablada, deputy director General in charge of U.S. affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, recently drew attention to the composition of the command of this political group, which is little known beyond the ultra-right spectrum of U.S. politics and the Cuban exile community. As far as is known, four US politicians orchestrated the attempt to overthrow the government in Cuba: from Florida, Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, as well as Republican MP María Elvira Salazar, and from New Jersey, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. But that should include Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez and a number of Cuban-American business and professionals, such as Emilio Braun of the Vulcan Investment Fund and lawyer Marcell Felipe. According to Tablada, these individuals form the core of a “mafia” that demands the intensification of the blockade against Cuba.
Felipe heads the Inspire America Foundation, which calls Tablada the “heiress of South Florida’s most anti-Cuban, reactionary and pro-Batista traditions,” referring to Cuba’s former military dictator Fulgencio Batista, who was overthrown by Fidel Castro. This foundation is intertwined with an ominous “Assembly of the Cuban Resistance” – a coalition of anti-communist groups calling for a U.S. invasion of Cuba. The unifying spirit of this scene is Mauricio Claver-Carone, a former executive director of the Cuba Democracy Advocates, Trump’s chief adviser on Cuba and current head of the Inter-American Development Bank IDB, based in Washington D.C. Claver-Carone, Tablada said, “was the leading head of the destabilization lobbyists who dictate or fuel the anti-Cuban agenda with a policy of hatred and aggression in the U.S. Congress and nationwide in the United States. The main goal of these people,” Tablada said, “is the overthrow of the Cuban Revolution.“Their plan is apparently to"bomb Cuba back to the time of Batista, when US corporations and gangsters rioted on the island.”
But the “system changers"financed with millions of dollars do not operate from Washington and Florida alone. From Mexico, Cuba was also covered with digital destabilization maneuvers. The one who denounced this was Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In a press conference last July 12, he accused the US – funded NGO ARTICLE 19-Defending freedom of expression and information of foreign interventionism against Cuba and referred to the political preparation and propagation of false facts against Cuban sovereignty. “I notice you intervene. For example, yesterday I saw on social networks the communication of a group called Artículo19, a journalistic association funded in Mexico by the US government, the US Embassy. Coincidentally, this organization, which we have already denounced, has snapped a photo and this is just one example of what they have done worldwide against those who do not agree with the Cuban government,” the head of state protested.
A month and a half earlier, López Obrador had already denounced another NGO, “Mexicanos contra la Corrupción” and its US sponsors, with a diplomatic note demanding an explanation from the US government that never arrived. “This should never be done, they must not give money to these organizations, it is interference in the internal affairs of our country, and Mexico is an independent, free and sovereign country,” the president protested during his usual morning conference last May 7. In announcing his unanswered protest note, the president assured that the organization had received $ 1.8 million through the U.S. Embassy in Mexico since 2018. He linked the NGO to a coalition of ultraconservative opposition parties that sought to wrest control of the House of Representatives from his party in the parliamentary elections held on June 6.
It seems that a variant of the “Einsatzgruppe Lavajato”, which was trained and supervised by the US Department of Justice in Brazil and headed by former judge and Jair Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice, Sérgio Moro, is already operating in Mexico. The actions of Moro and the Brazilian public Prosecutor, known in legal jargon as “lawfare”, were eminently political in nature and were aimed at the overthrow of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and, with the arrest of former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, at the ban of his presidential candidacy in 2018; an agenda largely abandoned during the Donald Trump administration ,but renewed offensive fired by his successor Joe Biden.
But back to Cuba. The foreign interventionism against Cuba, disapproved by the Mexican president, includes dozens of NGOs, digital media, activists and “producers” in the cultural, especially in the music scene. Two scenarios – one medial and one musical – illustrate the deep, broad and for years effective political tools of the US media and digital destabilization policy towards Cuba.
From Radio Martí and Yoani Sánchez to the US-funded combat media
“The media constantly sprinkles social networks with information about Cuba. They are classified as independent or alternative. But it is enough to follow the path of money that encourages and articulates them to know who they depend on and what editorial line they respond to, “commented at the end of 2020 the pro-government platform Razones de Cuba, explaining that"the communication strategy controlled with digital platforms is part of the political layout of the US government”.
According to the platform Ecured, also known as the “Wikipedia of Official Cuba”, “the plan of a neo-counterrevolution in Cuba dates back to the early 2000s, more precisely to May 14, 2004”. On that day, a meeting of CIA officials was said to have taken place at the residence of one of the officials of the then US diplomatic interest group in Havana, at which the idea was developed of “creating a counterrevolution with a new face and discourse"instead of the traditional counterrevolution with attempts at invasion and insurrection. Dozens of digital media and networks such as CiberCuba, ADN Cuba, Cubans por el Mundo, Cubita Now, Cubanet, Periodismo de Barrio, El Toque, El Estornudo and YucaByte were created, but initially operated from abroad, especially from the USA. This scenario emerges from a June 2004 report by the so-called “Commission in Support of a Free Cuba”, which at that time already listed the most prominent fighting media, including the promotion of press projects, against the island.
In the post-George W. Bush era, however, this initial stage was followed by the start of the blogger scene within Cuba, whose soon-to-be “stars” were embodied by the philologist Yoani Sánchez and husband Reinaldo Escobar. However, again in close consultation with the US diplomatic representation in Havana, as documented by two leaked confidential cable reports from 2007 and 2009. “I would be very upset if the numerous conversations I have had with Yoani Sánchez were published. It could pay for the consequences for a lifetime,” wrote Michael Parmly, the then U.S. envoy to Havana, who regularly met with Yoani Sánchez at his personal diplomatic residence, in his call notes.
After emigrating to Switzerland in 2002, Sánchez returned to Cuba two years later and in 2007 joined the dissident scene with harsh criticism of the government with her blog Generación Y. “No dissident in Cuba – perhaps all over the world-has won as many international awards in such a short time as Sánchez, but with one special feature: they have given Yoani Sánchez enough money to live in Cuba for the rest of her life without worries. Among the awards, she won the Deutsche Welle Award for Best Blog in 2008. In figures, the 250, 000 euros received around 2010 corresponded to more than 20 years of minimum wage in a country like France.
In 2009, an interview of Sánchez with US President Barack Obama suggested surges of adoration in the Western press. However, the reports of the US envoy in Havana, tapped by Wikileaks, tell another, the actual version of the sensational story. Namely, that not Obama, but an official in Havana wrote the answers to Sánchez. Even more embarrassing was the revelation that, contrary to Sánchez’s claims, a questionnaire was never sent to President Raúl Castro.
Sánchez never took it exactly with demonstrable facts and the truth. The finding was confirmed in 2012 with an investigation of her Twitter profile, which suggested that the blogger was one of the “pioneers” of robot use and fake news to potentiate her publicity. The website Followerwonk analyzed Sánchez’s alleged Twitter following with a case study and came across an impressive activity of her profile in 2010. By June 2010, Sánchez had signed up for more than 200 different Twitter accounts every day, peaking at 700 accounts in 24 hours. Since it still seems almost impossible to subscribe to so many accounts in such a short time, unless you spend whole hours day and night on them, Followerwonk concluded that they were created by a computer robot.
Sánchez’s crooked digital activities, along with inaccurate and questionable information about Cuba, did not prevent Deutsche Welle from signing the Cuban from 2013 and assigning her the moderation of a program entitled “The Search for Truth”. Apart from Radio Martí, founded in the 1980s by the US government as a “fighting station” in Florida, it was the first time that there was a voice of Cuban dissidence
At the same time, the US State Department, the International Development Agency USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy , which is linked to the CIA, built up a media machine in the US and within Cuba-but also with the registration of NGOs in third countries such as Mexico or Spain – which has devoured at least 500 million dollars for political destabilization in Cuba over the past 20 years.
Razones de Cuba concluded from the observation of the US moves that the new counterrevolution tried to find its human resources mainly among young people who exercised an important social influence as producers of ideology, for example journalists, academics and artists. With this calculation, various bloggers were recruited, trained and deployed, who were identified in Cuba with a “map of the Cuban blogosphere”. Years later, US President Barack Obama apparently continued to rely on this: the hard and aggressive course against Cuba had failed and made it necessary to seek the achievement of the goals in another way, namely with subversive “soft power”.
The reorientation also served the Foundation Open Society of the billionaire George Soros as an opportunity to enter with the offer of group projects against Cuba. With experience in Eastern European countries such as Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus, but also in the so-called “Arab Spring”, Open Society installed in 2014 the so-called Cuba Posible “Laboratory of Ideas”, a website dedicated to the elaboration and implementation of guidelines and the updating of the Cuban economic model under the guise of debate and the exercise of public criticism.
Compared to the media offensive, however, the US intervention in the Cuban music scene ranks as a film-ready masterpiece of conspiracy.
“Patria y Vida” or how the US infiltrated Cuba’s music scene
The protests of July 11 and 12 in Cuba were under a clear motto: “Patria y Vida” . This is the title of a rap song, Patria y Vida, which angered Cuba’s government a few months ago and was heard again during the demonstrations on 11 and 12 July and read as a motto on many posters. “My people ask for freedom, no more doctrines Let us no longer shout homeland or death but homeland and life,” says a verse of the song, which has become the anthem for many inside and outside Cuba. “Homeland and Life” alludes to the historic motto of the Cuban Revolution, coined by Fidel Castro in the 1960s, “Homeland or death, we will win!” to. The song questions the legitimacy of the government and denounces the socio-political and economic situation of the island.
Authors and performers of the hit are artists in Cuba such as rappers Maykel Osorbo and El Funky, but especially from the Cuban diaspora in Florida such as Descemer Bueno, Yotuel Romero and the band Gente de Zona, who produced the song in a division of labor between Miami and Havana. After its release, the song surpassed a million views in less than 72 hours, currently counts almost six million views on YouTube and went viral on various social networks in Cuba. The spread of AgitProp rape caused irritation in the Cuban government, which called the work “cowardly” and its authors “rats” and “mercenaries”. “Patria y Vida” is the preliminary culmination of more than ten years of music-political US offensive in Cuba.
Associated Press documented that USAID funded the establishment of the secret “Cuban Twitter”/ZunZuneo program to foment political dissent on the island and circumvent the state “stranglehold” on the Internet. However, this was only part of a larger operation. A second AP investigation in August 2014 found that the agency recruited young Latin Americans to use disguised health and welfare programs to provoke radical political change in Cuba.
In December 2014, AP managed another expose, namely that USAID secretly promoted Cuba’s underground hip-hop scene and recruited ignorant rappers to launch a youth movement against the government. The USAID secret enterprise drew on experience from Serbia, where student protest concerts were set up in 2000 with the aim of overthrowing then-President Slobodan Milosevic. Consequently, the US agency hired a group of Serbs around the “producer” Rajko Bozic to lead the secret Cuban hip-hop program.
USAID issued the slogan “Rap is war” and the Serbs first recruited the rapper band Los Aldeanos, whose critical to seditious lyrics had provoked the government to restrict their performances. Nevertheless, Los Aldeanos helped produce a USAID underground TV project on “Youth Culture” and received a political education during his performances in Serbia. But the role of the US government as a secret client in the background is said to have never been betrayed to the band.
The young Cuban musicians took a high risk. At least six times, USAID agents or Cubans working with them have been arrested or interrogated by the Government of Cuba. The authorities also repeatedly confiscated computer equipment and documents that linked the project to USAID. But the USAID agents took no account of this and repeatedly exposed the ignorant artists, above all Aldeanos frontman Aldo Rodriguez, to new risks.
The goal of the persistent course was the construction of the” social network “Talentocubano, which seems to have been put to sleep on YouTube for years, but still continues to operate as a” walking dead " its advertising on Facebook. A Cuban who worked for the contractors identified about 200 “socially conscious youth” around 2010 and connected them to the website that the managers hoped could trigger a “social movement.”
The Serbian team, hired by Creative Associates International – the same Washington group that also led the secret ZunZuneo project on behalf of USAID-used a Panamanian front company and a bank in Liechtenstein to hide the money trails from the Cuban authorities. The stripping of USAID was so covert that even the US Treasury froze one of the USAID transactions on suspicion that it violated the US embargo.
Bozic’s goal was to increase the government’s pressure on Los Aldeanos and to incite hostility to government censorship. Although the Cuban government had banned the group from performing in Havana, Los Aldeanos held a concert for 150 fans in Candelaria on June 5, 2009. Bozic and his crew filmed the show and kept the cameras rolling when police showed up afterwards to arrest Rodriguez, but the crew ducked away.
Shortly after Rodriguez’s arrest, Serbian agent Bozic tried to recruit Colombian rock star Juanes to keep the project going. However, Juanes refused to share the stage with the dissident hip-hop group. Creative Associates then began recruiting Cuban hip hop artists for “leadership training” workshops in Madrid and Amsterdam. The aim was their indoctrination for the agent activity of “social change”. Among other tasks, the groups learned in workshops how” guerrilla marketing " and graffiti campaigns can be used to spread their music and political message.
However, despite the easy money and efforts of the US government, the hip-hop program turned out to be unsuccessful. “USAID has never informed Congress of this and should never have been associated with something so incompetent and reckless,” Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy told AP. One thing is certain, the Creative Associates campaign on behalf of USAID was based on naive young people from Cuba and Latin America. The immigrants came to the island disguised as helpers, but were actually there to introduce subversive ideas to the Cuban youth through the hip-hop scene. In 2011, the Cuban government finally exposed the secret project and took action against Creative Associates and its subsidiaries.
The not exactly happy political handling of the state with the cultural, especially with the media and music scene-especially with the encouragement of the mass spread of the Internet and the associated, inevitable access to the values of the neoliberal Western economic system and its consumer society - underlines the timeliness of Leonardo Padura’s warning about the germinating alienation between state leadership and the street. There is still time to rethink in Cuba.
The sources can be found in the German blog post.