Cuban Man Missing After Shouting ‘Freedom!’ at Communist Rally

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 end "decades …
YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

A Cuban man identified as Ernesto Frank Sánchez Aguilar remains missing as of Monday morning after interrupting a mandatory “act of revolutionary affirmation” in Havana with shouts of “freedom!”

The Cuban Communist Party organized mass rallies nationwide over the weekend in response to protests against communism erupting in the country last weekend. Videos began surfacing on July 11 of thousands of Cubans peacefully marching in dozens of cities from tip to tip of the island chanting slogans for freedom and an end to the 62-year-old Castro family regime. Protests reportedly continued every day of last week, but the Cuban government shut down access to the internet for most citizens, making it more difficult for Cubans to share videos and images of the protests — and subsequent violent repression — with the outside world. Cuban police also violently assaulted members of the international press on the island, most prominently an Associated Press photographer, to prevent them from more thoroughly covering the protests.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the current figurehead of the Castro regime, issued an “order of combat” on July 11 demanding citizens take violent action against anyone considered a political dissident. Eyewitnesses on the ground have testified to regime agents forcing minors and teens to accept weapons and assault suspected protesters. Cubans in government jobs, universities, and other compromised situations have also reported that the regime has forced them to participate in pro-revolutionary rallies or lose their jobs or education.

The little information surfacing from Cuba following the internet shutdown has revealed Cuban regime forces amassing armed civilians to attack protesters and police opening fire into unarmed, peaceful crowds. At least one authenticated video showed police storming the residence of a suspected protester and shooting him in front of his toddler children.

International news agencies caught Sánchez’s interruption of the regime’s counter-rally in Havana on video on Saturday as the Communist Party allowed and encouraged coverage of the event, in an attempt to make the regime appear popular. Videos show the man yelling “freedom!” before a mob of communists begins assaulting him. The incident appeared to occur before the event formally began or Díaz-Canel addressed the crowd. State security officials whisk him away shortly thereafter; he has not been seen since.

The Cuban independent outlet 14 y Medio reported late Sunday that Sánchez remains missing and offered the few biographical details currently available on the man: he is believed to be a resident of Central Havana and does not appear to belong to any of Cuba’s largest dissident or human rights organizations. The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) confirmed the man’s name and hometown but has failed to uncover any more information as of Monday. The outlet ADN Cuba also reported that a video circulating on social media appeared to be made by a woman identifying herself as Sánchez’s sister-in-law, attempting to confirm the man’s identity. ADN Cuba could not independently verify the video.

Sánchez’s display recalled two other peaceful protests by single actors surrounded by hostile crowds in Cuba. In 2015, Zaqueo Báez, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), shouted the word “freedom!” in front of Pope Francis’s convoy during the religious leader’s visit to the island. A group of Communist Party uniformed officers apprehended Báez and beat him directly in front of Pope Francis, disappearing him into the Cuban prison system. The pope would later go on to claim he had no information on political prisoners in Cuba despite being caught witnessing a political arrest on video.

Two years later, in a similarly solitary act, another dissident, Daniel Llorente, interrupted the Communist Party’s largest mass event to make a statement against the regime. Llorente ran in front of the beginning of the International Workers’ Day, or May Day, parade waving an American flag. Communist Party security officers immediately apprehended Llorente and beat him severely on camera. Llorente was never charged with a crime or diagnosed with an illness, but the Castro regime placed him in a mental health institution for over a year claiming that his belief in God was a mental disorder. Llorente testified to being submitted to electrical torture during his stay in the facility. The regime ultimately abducted Llorente and forced him on a one-way flight to Guyana; Llorente and his son arrived in the United States in July after making the trek across Central America.

During Saturday’s “act of revolutionary affirmation,” Díaz-Canel issued a demand for all international social networks to shut down the spread of authentic videos showing his regime’s repression of peaceful civilians.

“The owners of these networks, the dictators of their algorithms … have opened the doors of their powerful platforms, without the least bit of ethical control, to hate,” the official newspaper of the Communist Party, Granma, quoted Díaz-Canel as saying. “The bombardment of images charged with violence, blood, protests, howling, vandalism, threats, harassment, and repression has not paused in the last six days.”

Díaz-Canel took no blame on the part of his regime for those images, documentation of acts that occurred in real life, existing — instead accusing dissidents denouncing the violence of engaging in “non-conventional war.”

Cuban state media claimed the “act of revolutionary affirmation” attracted 100,000 people, which 14 y Medio noted was impossible because the maximum capacity of the Havana venue hosting it is 5,000 people.

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