The Communist Party of Cuba preemptively arrested a human rights activist, Agustín López Canino, to prevent him from attending an event he attempted to organize to celebrate Cuba’s independence day.
May 20, 2022, marks 120 years since the authentic Cuban Revolution ended Spanish colonization. In the Cuban diaspora, Independence Day is typically marked with loud parties, events honoring poet and founding father José Martí, and protests calling for the end of the 63-year-old communist regime on the island. At home, the Communist Party bans celebrations of the event, instead forcing Cubans to attend mandatory celebrations on days like May 1, the Marxist “May Day” holiday celebrating communist ideology, or July 26, the day Fidel Castro organized a mass murder in a military garrison in 1953.
The Cuban independent media outlet 14 y Medio reported on Friday that police “intercepted” López in the early morning hours that day south of Havana, citing unnamed family members. López had announced in an interview with another independent outlet on the island, Cubanet, on Wednesday, that he intended to travel to Havana’s malecón, a key tourist site, and begin protesting at 10 a.m. local time for “the rights of the people and freedom for political prisoners sentenced for participating in the civil protests on July 11, 2021.”
That day saw the largest nationwide protests on the island in recent memory, attracting an estimated 187,000 people in nearly every municipality to take the streets demanding an end to the Castro regime. In response, the Communist Party organized violent raids against suspected protesters and engaged in mass arrests of individuals witnessed anywhere near a protest. Dozens of those arrested are children, including many sentenced to as much as 19 years in prison for peaceful protest.
López explicitly stated that he called the people to join the protest on Friday but no individual or civil society group would officially call for the protest to avoid mass arrests in anticipation of the event.
“That way, if this one doesn’t work or if this one is ‘controlled’ by the government, we will continue with [the people] next year,” he said. “It is the people who need freedom, it is the people who need to enjoy human rights.”
On Thursday, shortly before his arrest, López published a call to Havana residents to protest on the anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Cuba.
“A decisive moment is nearing, soon it will be dawn and I will demand my rights and those of the people,” López wrote. “I am being threatened with court action and later prison if I go out to the street responding to the call to [go to] the malecón made by Fueneteovejuna,” he said, using a term he defined as code for the general public.
20 DE MAYO 05 DE LA MADRUGADA. SE acerca un Momento decisivo, pronto amanecerá y voy a reclamar mis derechos y los del…
Friday’s 14 y Medio report noted that journalists on the island were struggling to organize and publish reports on the repression as the government appeared to have cut off their internet access.
López is a longtime freedom activist and frequent arrestee.
#Cuba El activista Agustín López Canino fue arrestado este viernes después de un registro policial en su vivienda. Fuentes familiares aseguran que sigue detenido en la estación de Santiago de las Vegas, al sur de La Habana. #Represión (Foto de Archivo) pic.twitter.com/w1hNJoIfez
— Yoani Sánchez 🇺 🇺 (@yoanisanchez) March 5, 2018
He is the brother of late protester Ada María López Canino, a member of the Ladies in White dissident group. The Ladies in White is a Christian organization consisting of the mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives of political prisoners, whose sole act of protest is to march to Catholic Mass every Sunday dressed in white and carrying the photos of their imprisoned loved ones. Their leader, Berta Soler, and many members face weekly violent police attacks and arrests, typically resulting in no charges so police can once again arrest them the week after.
#Cuba Otro segmento del duelo de despedida de la Dama de Blanco Ada Maria López Canino quien murió en la tarde de ayer. El que despide el duelo es su hermano el bloguero Agustin Lopez Canino pic.twitter.com/UylUtBkXhz
— Iván Hdez Carrillo🇺 (@ivanlibre) December 14, 2017
The Castro regime launched a campaign on Friday to condemn all who celebrate Cuban Independence Day, including multiple front-page pieces in Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, referring to those who observe the founding of the nation as traitors and supporters of American “military occupation.” Puppet dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel, referred to as “president” but with no power independent of the Castro family, used the opportunity on Friday to condemn Cubans celebrating their independence.
“Only annexationists can celebrate May 20,” Díaz-Canel, a figurehead of what is now effectively a Chinese and Russian colony, wrote on Twitter. “Flying our flag without the other one [presumably, the American flag] by its side, in 1902, was an act of symbolic independence. The sovereignty of the Republic was taken hostage by the empire [America] until 1959.”
Sólo los anexionistas pueden celebrar el 20 de Mayo. Izar nuestra bandera sin otra al lado, en 1902, fue un acto de independencia simbólica. La soberanía de la República estuvo secuestrada por el imperio hasta 1959. #CubaViveEnSuHistoria #TenemosMemoriahttps://t.co/kohWl6WNDL
— Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (@DiazCanelB) May 20, 2022
Attempts to browbeat, torture, and persecute Cubans into silence following the July 11 protests have largely failed. In one of the most brazen acts of protest since, this week, residents of Guisa, in what pre-1959 was Oriente province, attacked a local store run by the Cuban Export-Import Corporation (CIMEX) and the offices of the Cuba Telecommunications Corporation (ETECSA) during a blackout on Wednesday. Guisa has been among the most affected areas in eastern Cuba by rolling blackouts, caused by the communist regime failing to properly administer or maintain the power grid. Reports indicate that locals hurled rocks at the targeted sites, leaving their windows visibly broken. The regime confirmed that the stoning occurred and organized an “act of Revolutionary reaffirmation” – a mandatory mob scene where communists wave flags and harass suspected dissidents – in the town.