The Cuban government is using a 30-year-old video of Fidel Castro to attack a group of activists who have called for a peaceful march in November in solidarity with political prisoners, a gesture authorities have called a provocation orchestrated by the United States to destabilize the country.
After notifying its organizers on Tuesday that the motives for the march were “illegal,” the island’s government has launched a propaganda campaign on state news outlets and social media to portray the activists as agents in the service of the U.S.
“We are not going to give guarantees to the counterrevolution. What do they want, that we allow them to conspire openly, to openly betray the country, to play the game of the potential invaders of our country? We do not have to tolerate it, and we are not going to tolerate it,” said the late Cuban leader in a 1990s video that was broadcast on state television on Tuesday. The show where the video was shown targeted the playwright and actor Yunior García, one of the leading voices behind the peaceful march.
“The counterrevolutionaries will not have any platform here; they will have no right here to campaign against the revolution,” Castro said in the video. The show’s anchor said Castro’s thought is “the guide of this country according to the current Constitution.” The Twitter account of the Cuban presidency shared a video of the show.
Activists on Twitter drew attention to a photo of García used in the video that appears to be manipulated to show that the young man is wearing a T-shirt with the American flag.
García replied that the program followed “the poorly written script by State Security.”
“See you on November 15,” he wrote on Facebook. “I am no longer afraid of the “black shirts” ... nor of the dictatorship. And yes, I already use the word DICTATORSHIP.”
García and other members of the group have denied being financed or directed by the U.S. government.
While the extensive negative coverage has made it clear to Cubans that the government is strongly opposed to the idea of an opposition march, it has at the same time made the initiative known to a broader national audience. The scale of the propaganda campaign, which Cuban diplomats on Twitter also joined, suggests that the government believes the activists pose a serious political risk.
The government headed by Miguel Díaz-Canel has already faced the largest protests in decades, when Cubans across the island took to the streets on July 11. Many were arrested, and hundreds remain in detention, according to data compiled by the legal aid organization Cubalex. A coalition of artists, writers, professionals and dissidents organized in a new group called Archipiélago notified the government of their intention to march on Nov. 20 against violence, and to demand the release of political prisoners and that the rights of “all Cubans” be respected, according to a letter delivered to local authorities.
When the government announced military exercises for that day, activists changed the date to Nov. 15. On Tuesday, the authorities of several provinces delivered an identical letter to its promoters in which they argued that the reasons for calling the march are “illegal.” The members of Archipiélago replied they will still march that day, citing an article of the Constitution approved in 2019 that allows peaceful demonstrations.
But many of the rights included in the legal text are subject to interpretation by the authorities. For example, article 56 indicates that the state recognizes the rights of assembly, demonstration and association, only if they have “lawful purposes” and “provided that they are exercised with respect for public order and compliance with the regulations established by law.”
The reasons given by the authorities to conclude that the march is not lawful are political. They said its coordinators have ties to “subversive organizations” financed by the United States and that the initiative is part of an attempt at regime change. Authorities also claim that the march violates article 4 of the Constitution, which establishes that the socialist system is “irrevocable.”
Cuban television dedicated time during its prime-time news show and in other slots to promote these arguments, while Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, published an editorial entitled “Reason is our shield.” The editorial describes the idea of the march as a “dishonorable and rogue annexationist action that serves the historical enemy of the Cuban nation in its plan to fracture and divide us to defeat us.”
Without providing evidence, Granma claimed that the U.S. government is “explicitly involved ... in the counterrevolutionary farce.”
“Senior government officials participate directly in its promotion and, with the support of the special services, in its organization,” said Granma. “An important instrument, although not the only one, is the U.S. embassy in Cuba.”
The U.S. State Department’s spokesperson denied the allegations and condemned repression on the island.
“What happened in July, what transpired in the days and the weeks after that, was not about the United States,” said Ned Price. “The violence that we’ve seen, the detentions that we’ve seen, the crackdowns that we’ve seen, now the prohibitions on peaceful protests that we’ve seen — all of this remind us that it is the Cuban people who are paying dearly in their fight for freedom, their fight for dignity. We call for the government in Havana to respect the fundamental freedoms and the fundamental rights of the Cuban people.”
Several of the march coordinators have been under surveillance for days without access to the internet, they have said on social media. At least one member of Archipiélago, Daniela Rojo, was arrested on Tuesday.
Writer Javier L. Mora, one of the march organizers in Santiago de Cuba, said that government agents in plainclothes are monitoring his building. In a Twitter space called Radio Libertad, Mora mentioned Tuesday night that he was concerned that the letter from the authorities would be the prelude to violence against those who decide to take to the streets on Nov. 15. But he said the support the group is receiving inside the island makes him hopeful.
“Cuban citizens not only support Archipiélago but are in tune with the idea of democracy that Archipiélago wants for our country,” Mora said. “We have to do a tremendous job; we have to begin to instill courage and hope in the population and make them realize that the Cuban state is only there for a little while. Their time is running out, and they know it.”