Cuba: Thousands Nationwide Take Streets Against Communism

Thousands of Cubans in at least 16 cities took the streets peacefully on Sunday to demand an end to the 62-year-old communist regime, chanting “freedom,” wearing American flags, and in many cases facing extreme police repression.

Videos from throughout the island show both plain-clothed and uniformed state security officers attacking peaceful protesters. In Havana, bystanders recorded the sound of heavy gunfire and public beatings of dissidents. Miguel Díaz-Canel, the “president” appointed by Raúl Castro to be the face of the still-ruling Castro Communist Party, called for street “combat” against anyone demanding an end to the regime in a speech on Sunday.

The protests appeared to begin in the town of San Antonio de los Baños, western Cuba, on Sunday morning. Local independent outlets documented chants of “down with communism!”, “they [the regime] must leave,” and “fuck Díaz-Canel!”, among other anti-government statements. Locals livestreamed the protest on Facebook, triggering an outpouring into the streets of at least 16 major cities including both Havana and Santiago de Cuba, on opposite ends of the island.

The geographically widespread nature of the protests and the secrecy of the Communist Party on the island has made it virtually impossible to estimate exactly how many Cubans took the streets on Sunday. Police have not released any arrest totals or injury statistics, but some local outlets estimate that hundreds were arrested, taken into police stations but not formally charged or appearing in any law enforcement documentation. Among the arrested were several Cuban journalists not participating but reporting on the protests, according to the dissident news service Cubanet. Also arrested on Sunday, though rapidly released, was Yomil Hidalgo, one of Cuba’s most popular dance music artists.

The American flag, popularized as a protest symbol in Cuba by dissident Daniel Llorente, made multiple appearances among Cubans on Sunday. Video authenticated by the Miami broadcaster AméricaTeve showed a group of Cubans carrying an American flag through the streets of Havana on Sunday while chanting “freedom!” Videos taken by Cubans on social media and distributed through other Latin American news organizations also show the presence of the U.S. flag.

In Mayabeque, a Havana suburb, a crowd of hundreds congregated in front of an image of the Virgin Mary to pray for an end to the communist regime. At least one participant can be seen wearing an American flag shirt while praying.

Pre-Castro Cuba was a majority Catholic nation. Under communism, the regime has outlawed most religious practices it cannot control and regularly persecutes Christians who defy its authority. Fidel Castro sent non-Catholic Christians – primarily Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists – to labor camps alongside suspected LGBT people, writers and critics, and other “undesirables” in the 1960s.

Reports of the beating and arrest of at least one Catholic priest, Father Castor José Álvarez Devesa, surfaced on Sunday. Álvarez reportedly disappeared in Camagüey, one of the most active protest centers, and resurfaced under the custody of the Communist Party’s secret police.