Cuba: Private Vendors Flood Streets in Protest Against Police Brutality

Protest against police brutality in Havana, Cuba, neighborhood after police beat a young man.
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A violent crackdown on the growing number of independent salesmen in Cuba triggered a protest among civilians outraged by the brutal police beating of a young man who had entered a Havana neighborhood, known for its trade, to shop on Tuesday.

According to the dissident outlet Cubanet, the protest was not organized by any political movement, instead resulting organically after outrage from locals.

It is the most recent in a string of such protests, many last month triggered by the communist government’s woeful emergency response to Hurricane Irma.

According to Cubanet, the incident occurred in an area known as “La Cuevita” (the little cave), which it describes as home to the most well-known illegal market in the capital. According to witnesses, a young man identified as Félix Ramos Lao was present in the neighborhood when a plain-clothes policeman approached him.

“He grabbed him by his T-shirt, from the back, then my husband reacted thinking he was being mugged and some other policemen ran over, all in civil clothes, and beat him without measure,” Ramos’ wife, Kirenia Castillo Rodríguez, told Cubanet. She added that police also brandished a gun at him.

Ramos was then reportedly hauled away in a police car and imprisoned for attempted assault.

Locals then reportedly swarmed the police station demanding his release. Some protested that police would arrest someone for shopping when real crime went unaddressed, shouting the name of an alleged rapist, according to the report. The group, Cubanet reported, consisted of “human rights activists, salesmen, and neighbors in the area, who shouted ‘freedom’ and ‘long live human rights’ at the police.”

Cubanet published a video of the incident:

The protest is the latest of its kind in recent memory. It follows a large altercation in Havana in September following the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irma.

Residents of the Diez de Octubre neighborhood in Havana organized protests last month following days without electricity or potable water. Miami’s El Nuevo Herald reported at the time that residents gathered and began chanting “we want light, we want water” at police, as well as the communist slogan “the people united will never be defeated.”

The protest was not organized by human rights activists, but by communists. One older woman told the Herald, apparently attacking the current regime, “Fidel [Castro] had his faults, but he would put on his boots when things like this happened and go out on the street to fix problems.”

Police blocked car traffic into the neighborhood to prevent news of the protests spreading.

While Cuban authorities failed to help Cuban citizens, the communist government in Havana offered humanitarian aid to Puerto Rico in an attempt to humiliate the government of the United States, a move it often makes following natural disasters on U.S. soil.

Cuban cuentapropistas—entrepreneurs—saw an opportunity to open businesses and make money inside the communist economy during the Obama era. Since 2014, however, when President Obama granted extensive concessions to the Castro regime in exchange for no improvements on human rights abuses, Havana has cracked down on any attempts to make money that do not directly enrich the Cuban regime. Most recently, Havana police have begun cracking down on Tarot card readers and other fortune tellers, who often make spare cash entertaining tourists.

The protests by apolitical civilians have not stopped regular protests by human rights activists. The Ladies in White, a group of female relatives of political prisoners who attend Catholic Mass as a form of protest, were on the streets again Sunday holding gladiolas and walking silently. Cuban police arrested 30 of them, according to group leadership, around the country: in Havana, Matanzas, and Guantánamo, among other cities.

Police also organized an acto de repudio, a mob attack, on the home of Berta Soler, the leader of the group.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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