Division General Agustín Peña, the commander of the Eastern Army of Cuba, died mysteriously on Saturday following rumors of Chinese coronavirus infection, leaving the military vulnerable amid nationwide protests against the ruling communist regime.
Peña was 57 years old and, in addition to holding a pivotal military post, was a member of the Communist Party’s central committee. The Communist Party did not disclose a cause of death or offer any indication of what preceded his passing.
“Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Sunday mourned the recent death of Division General Agustin Peña, chief of the Eastern Army, and sent his condolences to his family, friends and combatants,” the Cuban state outlet Prensa Latina revealed on Sunday. “On his official Twitter account, the president wrote that the news is very painful and sad.”
No information suggests that Peña’s demise was directly related to the week-long protests throughout Cuba, which affected most of the regions Peña was in charge of the military in. Holguín, one of eastern Cuba’s largest cities and a command area under Peña, experienced some of the largest peaceful protests in the ongoing wave, which began on Sunday, July 11. In response to the protests, Díaz-Canel, the face of the Castro regime, ordered both the nation’s armed forces and civilians to violently attack anyone suspected of supporting anti-communist protests, resulting in significant violence in cities like Holguín.
Some outlets have speculated that Peña died after being diagnosed with Chinese coronavirus, which has swept the nation in light of Communist Party mismanagement and the dilapidated state of its socialist healthcare system. The independent outlet 14 y Medio, whose journalists are based in Cuba, stated that multiple unnamed sources had relayed the information that Peña was at least suspected of suffering from the disease.
“Although official media have not offered information regarding Peña’s cause of death, Radio Rebelde journalist Aroldo García Fombellida in Holguín wrote on his Facebook profile: ‘he was liberated today … against the mortal pandemic of Covid-19,'” 14 y Medio reported.
Cuba has documented 281,887 cases of Chinese coronavirus and nearly 2,000 deaths since the pandemic began, a number most experts believe is significantly lower than the true toll due to Cuba’s poor testing abilities and its history of fabricating medical statistics. As a member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Cuba’s communist regime has close ties to its ideological allies in Beijing and has actively courted Chinese tourism. The regime also invited tourists from coronavirus hotspots like Italy at the height of the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020 while refusing to close schools or implement social distancing measures for Cuban citizens.
Cubanet, another independent outlet reliant on journalists on the island, reported that widespread protests continued in at least two eastern cities, Guantánamo and Baracoa, on Saturday. Authorities arrested two Cubanet journalists last weekend for attempting to cover the first wave of protests. The Castro regime shut off access to the internet for nearly all citizens in Cuba following July 11, severely limiting the information – and images – the international media are now privy to regarding the situation on the ground in the country. Cubanet reported that “political police,” special forces reserved for repressing dissidents, took over Baracoa after protests began, but that the heavy law enforcement presence has not limited public displays of support for an end to the regime.
Videos of protests in Baracoa, dated Saturday, July 17, surfaced on social media this weekend, showing large crowds of peaceful protesters marching in the streets. The videos appear to be taken on mobile phones by anonymous sources however, and Breitbart News could not independently verify the authenticity of the videos:
Much of Cuba appears to be in a state of de facto martial law following the start of the protests, multiple Cuban interest news outlets have reported. The Spain-based Diario de Cuba newspaper reported on Sunday that San Antonio de los Baños, the city where protests are believed to have first begun last week, is flooded with “trucks full of soldiers and the central plaza in the town has been seized by dozens of police, soldiers, and State Security agents.” The city also lacks any access to the internet, locals have denounced, with no indication of when Cuba’s state-run telecommunications company ETECSA will restore access.
The nationwide protests resulted in an unknown number of arrests and enforced disappearances nationwide, at one point last week estimated to be as high a 5,000 people. The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) has confirmed as of Saturday 560 arrests and/or disappearances, many of them people who witnesses can confirm were taken into police custody or into hospitals after police attacks but whose family has no knowledge of their whereabouts. Many of those documented as missing or arrested are prominent members of the dissident community who already have ties to foreign groups like the OCDH; experts believe many of the arrested or disappeared could be in remote areas of the country, with no civil society infrastructure to seek to account for their wellbeing.