United States Slams Cuba Over Jail Sentences For Power Protestors.

Photo by Stéphan Valentin on Unsplash A street in Havana, Cuba.
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The US government has condemned a Cuban court’s decision to hand down long prison sentences to a group of street protesters as “repression”.

Thirteen protesters were found guilty of crimes including sedition and sabotage earlier this year after they took to the streets in August 2022 to vent their anger at lengthy power cuts.

They were sentenced last week to jail terms of up to 15 years, which has attracted international attention on a number of fronts.

Unauthorised public gatherings are illegal in Cuba and, not surprisingly,  protests are rare.

But the dire state of the Cuban economy, which has led to food, fuel and medicine shortages as well as power cuts, has angered some so much they have been willing to defy the rules governing public gatherings.

In July 2021, thousands of disaffected Cubans formed the largest protests to be held on the Communist-run island for decades. More than 1,000 were arrested and handed jail sentences.

The Cuban government claims that “the provocations orchestrated by counterrevolutionary elements, (are) organized and financed from the United States with destabilizing purposes. Díaz-Canel accused the United States of using a policy of “economic asphyxiation [to] cause social unrest” in Cuba.

This point of view certainly has its supporters in Cuba.

“If Biden really wants to stand by the Cuban people, if the US government were to actually care about the Cuban people, they would immediately end this blockade,” said People’s Forum Executive Director Manolo De Los Santos.

“In fact, with the stroke of a pen, they could immediately take Cuba off the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which prevents Cuba from accessing financial services around the world and be able to trade freely.”

The response, say some Cuban officials,  is a stark contrast to the “respect to human rights of…protesters” seen in the United States.

For the past six months, hundreds of thousands have been camping out and marching in cities and towns across the country to demand a ceasefire in Gaza, and national and local leaders have suppressed the protests and ignored their demands (but they have not been given prison sentences.)

The economy of Cuba has been spiralling downwards with the government for the first time asking the United Nations food programme for help to alleviate shortages.

The group of protesters sentenced last week had taken to the streets in Nuevitas in August 2022 after their small town experienced lengthy power cuts.

The majority of their sentences ranged between 10 and 15 years, Reuters news agency reported citing a sentencing document.

An American official, Brian Nichols, called the severity of their punishment “outrageous”.

“The Cuban government’s continued repression of Cubans striving to fulfil their basic rights and needs is unconscionable,” Mr Nichols, US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

While the Cuban government has not yet responded directly to Mr Nichol’s tweets, Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, has in recent weeks accused the US of planning to trigger “a social explosion” on the anniversary of the July 2021 protests.

The Cuban government has long blamed US sanctions for its economic problems, and state-controlled media has warned of alleged attempts by the US government to “make the most of Cuba’s complex economic situation” to create unrest on its streets, but whether there is any substance to such allegations is hard to say.

Certainly there are many Cuban exiles living and working in the United States who send money to relatives in Cuba, but whether there is any organized activity by the US Government is not clear.

Sources: BBC, Granma, Wikipedia, agencies.
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