The film music from the boxing classic “Rocky III” with Sylvester Stallone has to serve as the basis for the attempt to curry favor with the Cuban youth. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel marches through the first TikTok video on the official channel of the Cuban government to the sounds of “Eye of the Tiger” by the group Survivor.
It doesn’t get much more American than that. The first line of the song says: “Rising up, back on the street”. The latter, however, is unlikely to be taken seriously before the anniversary of the historic social protests on Monday. The TikTok appearance therefore drew scathing mockery in the social networks, some users even believed that the production was a joke of some satirist.
In fact, ahead of the one-year anniversary of the demonstrations that rocked the country exactly a year ago, Cuba’s one-party regime did everything it could to ensure that such a scenario would not happen again.
On July 11, 2021 and in the days that followed, thousands of people took to the streets in the country to demonstrate in the largest mass protests to date for a democratic opening of the one-party system and against repression and the catastrophic supply situation on the island.
But the government in Havana fears nothing more than that – as in 1989 in what was then the GDR – a political dynamic that could no longer be controlled would develop from the streets. That it could end in a second peaceful revolution is a nightmarish prospect for Fidel Castro’s heirs.
Instead of dialogue and openness, the Cuban government is therefore relying on tough repression. Hundreds of demonstrators, including dozens of minors, have now been sentenced to years in prison for what is usually the first time they have taken part in a protest.
Cuban state security has visited all members of the independent rebellious arts and culture scene and human rights activists who have not yet left the country or are in prison to issue a clear warning: Whoever takes to the streets again this July 11th gets the whole thing to feel the harshness of the law.
The socialist government blames the decades-long US trade embargo on the island for the supply crisis. However, more and more Cubans are wondering why practically everything is available for wealthy tourists, but not for the local population.
But in view of the threat that has been built up, she probably has no choice but to swallow down her pent-up anger about the reform blockade on Monday – or to risk her life. In July 2021, people took to the streets peacefully, recalls the Cuban doctor Alexander Pupo, who has since fled to Mexico. “In return, they received repression, beatings and imprisonment,” said the doctor to the government-critical portal “14ymedio”.
Pupo believes that a new uprising will no longer be so peaceful: “There will be deaths and injuries on both sides, it will be a shame.” A similar fear was expressed weeks ago by the Catholic priest Alberto Reyes.
Many people would no longer be satisfied with the alternatives of flight or submission. “We are fed up with living a miserable life with no other horizon than emigration,” Reyes wrote on social media.
The ruling Democrats in the USA, who ushered in a diplomatic thaw with Havana under Barack Obama, now have to watch helplessly under President Joe Biden as Cuba’s government deals with civil society more repressively than openly.
This is one of the reasons why the well-known form of the Cuban way of dealing with the unthinkability of a peaceful change of power is experiencing a renaissance: mass exodus. According to the American authorities, more than 140,000 people from Cuba have been counted at the US borders in recent months. That even surpasses the historical proportions of the so-called “Mariel Boat Crisis”, when between April 15 and October 31, 1980, around 125,000 people left the island for Florida.
This way of dealing with critics is a constant of the socialist government, which the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who died in 2016, already used as an outlet: Anyone who does not want to accept the conditions in Cuba and openly criticizes them must either go to prison or leave the island in a life-threatening manner. Nobody knows how many thousands of migrants have drowned on the crossing to the USA in recent years.
The allied dictatorship from Nicaragua acts as a supporter of the Cuban strategy and grants flights without visas to those willing to flee. This is also reminiscent of the final phase of the GDR, when Hungary became the gateway for GDR citizens heading west. From Nicaragua, however, the Cubans are on their own. Miami in particular exerts an enormous attraction, especially on young refugees. A third of the population in the city today has Cuban roots.
There, as in 30 other major cities around the world, exiled Cubans want to come to the aid of their countrymen on July 11, who are not allowed to demonstrate at home. A solidarity demonstration in front of the Bundestag with around 1,000 political prisoners is planned in Berlin from 5 p.m. on Monday, and a similar rally is to take place in Cologne the day before.
“So that the international public gets a message from this unity of all Cubans around the world,” says co-organizer María Ares in an interview with WELT. It remains to be seen what reaction this message will trigger in Havana.