Demonstrations Against Police Brutality Suppressed by Cuban Authorities, reports Human Rights Watch.


A peaceful protest against police brutality that was due to take place on the 30th June in Havana, Cuba’s capital, was effectively suppressed by government authorities. This was achieved through the use of harassment and intimidation methods that violated the would-be protestors’ human rights, Human Rights Watch reports.

 

The planned protest was in reaction to the controversial June 24th killing of an unarmed Afro-Cuban man, Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano, by police. According to state sources, the 27-year-old was shot after being caught stealing and acting aggressively toward the arresting officers. Just a month after the murder of George Floyd and the worldwide protests that followed, the killing triggered a surge of social media activity demanding justice for the murdered man and ultimately led to the planning of the demonstration.

 

However, the protest never took place. PROVEA, a Venezuelan human rights organization, estimated that between 29th and 30th June at least 132 people were victims of police harassment and intimidation designed to put a stop to the demonstration. Artists, activists and journalists were among those who faced a number of different intimidation tactics. Some were physically detained, prohibited from leaving their houses by police officers or arrested on their way to the protest site. Others received threats in the form of anonymous phone calls and experienced phone service and internet disruption. The Cuban authorities later justified some of these actions as preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19.

 

According to International Human Rights law, HRW cites, governments must respect and protect individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and association, which include peaceful protests. Even during a pandemic, any restrictions on these rights must be “necessary and proportionate to the achievement of a legitimate aim.” The same applies to access to online information. The government’s actions in this case, according to the organization, are disproportionate, unjust and indicative of the Cuban state’s totalitarian tendencies. Their response, according to José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW, “is part of a broader pattern in which Cuban authorities will find any excuse – in this case the pandemic­ – to treat dissent as a crime.”

 

This instance of police brutality and oppression is not an isolated case in Cuba. Rather, it is characteristic of the state’s response towards any form of criticism. The government routinely relies on arbitrary detention and harassment to hinder freedom of expression and speech and censure public criticism, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the Cuban authorities with yet another excuse to exercise control over the population. In fact, police aggression during the pandemic has worsened, as noted by various independent Cuban media sources, with an increase in police presence on the streets and reports of violence carried out by officers monitoring the large queues for groceries.

 

The death of Galiano exposes the systemic racism and police oppression that the Cuban government refuses to acknowledge, reports the New York Times. Making matters worse, the sabotage of the protest against his death lays bare the totalitarian tendencies of the regime and highlights its willingness to oppress its people. The Cuban government routinely applauds anti-racist protests in other countries, yet it violates human rights on its own soil to silence its citizens when they try to speak out. This hypocrisy is a result of a regime that curates a reputation for being infallible. While there is hope that developments in social media and efforts of campaigners will bring about accountability and change, the struggle for freedom of expression for everyday Cubans is not over and there is continuing demand for the international community to monitor human rights abuses on the island.

Rafaela Alford
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