Bloody Monday in Cuba: Hundreds Likely Missing, Police Fire into Crowds of Protesters

TOPSHOT - Riot police walk the streets after a demonstration against the government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Arroyo Naranjo Municipality, Havana on July 12, 2021. - Cuba on Monday blamed a "policy of economic suffocation" of United States for unprecedented anti-government protests, as President Joe Biden backed calls to …
YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

A near-nationwide internet blackout severely limited the ability of protesters to share updates and images from Cuba, but the little that has trickled out suggests the island experienced another wave of thousands-strong protests on Monday that has triggered severe communist repression.

Thousands of Cubans took to the streets of nearly every major city in the country on Sunday, peacefully assembling to demand an end to communism. Protesters shared videos of crowds marching peacefully on Havana’s iconic Malecón and throughout major cities like Camagüey, Cárdenas, Holguín, and Santiago de Cuba, some of them waving American flags and others sporting Catholic and other Christian imagery in defiance of the officially atheist Communist Party. President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the figurehead of the Castro regime, responded to the protests by urging “revolutionaries” to violently assault unarmed protesters on the streets, describing his call as an “order of combat.”

In response to Díaz-Canel’s call, both uniformed and plain-clothes police officers have unleashed a wave of repression on protesters that has included shooting at them, attacking them with dogs, and public beatings. The beatings have not been limited to protesters — among the most gruesome images surfacing on Sunday was that of the bloody face of Associated Press photographer Ramón Espinosa, beaten publicly by a gang of uniformed police officers for attempting to do his job.

The Castro regime appeared to shut down internet access throughout most of the island Monday, limiting the previously extensive flow of citizen journalist videos depicting extreme repression. Reports nonetheless trickled out that appeared to indicate hundreds of people are missing nationwide and families have not been able to see their relatives who have been hospitalized with bullet injuries. Witnesses say police stations have also attracted crowds of loved ones seeking information on the missing to no avail.

By early Monday, human rights groups had managed to confirm the arrest or disappearance of 57 people, most of them prominent dissidents with ties to civil society organizations that could document their disappearance. Most observers considered the number significantly lower than the probably true total of arrests and disappearances, citing witness reports of overwhelmed police stations, prisons, and hospitals.

On Monday evening, Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, shared that the list of confirmed arrests, not counting disappearances, had risen to 115 people in the country.

The internet shutdown and police repression have succeeded, in part, in silencing protesters, leading many on the island to reach out anonymously with information on the ground that international establishment media have not bothered to confirm and those outside the island do not have the resources to. In one message circulating in Miami-based media, an unnamed Cuban source describes police stations in major cities as surrounded by crowds of people demanding to know where the missing are. Another report alleged that desperate family members surrounded a police station in Capri, a Havana neighborhood, and attempted to storm it and burn it down; that report remains unverified.

Hospitals in the country, already overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, are full of people injured by police, the message continued, but police officials have allegedly cut off access to any patients with bullet injuries or other conditions that indicate they were present at the protests.

The few videos that Cubans have managed to smuggle out of the country, and media outlets have been able to verify as authentic and from the protests this week, indicate that the Castro regime has launched a nationwide campaign of violence against anyone calling for its end. In one video shared by the dissident outlet Cubanet — which lost several reporters to police arrests on Sunday — a mob of communists carrying baseball bats and large sticks can be seen approaching and assaulting peaceful protesters.

Another video published and verified by Cubanet, appearing to be from Santiago de Cuba, shows a protester bleeding out on the street of an apparent gunshot wound in the head. The man appears unconscious and is bleeding profusely from the head as civilians surround him and attempt to wrap his head with cloth to stop the bleeding.

“They killed him, they killed him!” onlookers shout.

Warning: Graphic Video

Cubanet reported large protests on Monday in Havana and Holguín, where protesters reportedly surrounded the headquarters of the local chapter of the Communist Party of Cuba.

The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights published a video Tuesday of unnamed health workers confirming another death at the hands of police. The health workers say a colleague protesting peacefully was “beaten to death” in broad daylight; the human rights group does not supply information regarding where on the island the incident reportedly happened.

The Cuban independent online newspaper 14 y Medio also reported of a death in Mayabeque denounced by the aunt of the deceased.

“They took his teeth out, they threw the dogs at him, seven, eight black berets [state security officers] beat him,” the woman said. “While the children of the henchmen you people defend are in other countries, yours are here and they will pay,” she added, apparently addressing the police officers allegedly responsible for the killing.

14 y Medio reportedly multiple eyewitness accounts that share a detail with the Mayabeque death: the use of police dogs to terrorize protesters. Cuban journalist José Raúl Gallego reportedly told the outlet that police executed raids throughout the night of Sunday and early morning Monday, going door-to-door with police dogs and abducting people. Unverified videos surfacing on Facebook appear to show police dragging minors suspected of having participated in peaceful protests out of their homes.

In Camagüey, the outlet added, reports suggest as many as 2,000 people injured.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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