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Opinion. The Cuban authorities are afraid of us

The real Cuba has moved further and further away from the country propagated by the authorities and the state media. Cuban blogger and government critic Joani Sánchez says anger is growing in the streets.

No one in the queue spoke. A woman looked at her shoes while a young man tapped his fingers against the wall.

It has been some time since Cubans took to the streets in protests unprecedented in the last 62 years, and the anger is still very much present. Popular outrage is growing as images of police brutality, more testimonies from mothers whose children have disappeared since the protests began, and videos of the militarized city emerge.

Anyone unfamiliar with the situation on the island before this historic date might say that the authorities have managed to bring the situation under control and that calm has returned to the streets of Cuba. In reality, however, this apparent calm is nothing but fear, anger and pain. Tension is in the air in Havana. Policemen, military units and pro-government civilians are everywhere, wielding improvised sticks.

Fear spreads through the houses and streets

Discomfort is growing in homes and tears are flowing. Thousands of families were at police stations looking for someone; others were waiting for uniformed police officers to knock on their doors and take away their relatives suspected of involvement in the protests.

New riots broke out across the country, with reports of beatings and shootings by special forces, the dreaded “Black Bees”, an elite unit of the armed forces. Numerous independent journalists have been arrested, others placed under house arrest, and internet access has been censored several times since the first protests broke out.

Gone are the citizens who were portrayed by the authorities as completely loyal to the system, docile and peaceful. People have found their voices of protest, some loud, some muted. And it is impossible to predict exactly when they will be heard again.

The real Cuba has moved away from the country that the official media propagate. While the former feel like reclaimed citizens, test their strength in the streets and cry out for freedom, the state-controlled media speak of foreign conspiracies; isolated groups demonstrate and criminals smash up shops and markets.

Is civil war imminent?

The two narratives are mutually exclusive and cannot coexist in the long run. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel tried to qualify his remarks at the beginning of the protests, while more protests are being registered almost hourly.

“The order to fight has been given”, he threatened at the time, and “we are prepared for anything”. The spectra of civil war hovered over the island. He now uses words like “harmony”, “peace” and “joy”, but these sacred phrases ring hollow as hundreds of buses roll through the country dropping military units in squares and neighborhoods.

So far, the only announced measure to calm the protests has been to lift restrictions on travelers bringing medicine, food and hygiene items to the island. However, after years of demands, this is seen as too little, too late. For many, it was breadcrumbs in the face of calls for social change and the resignation of key political figures to begin the transition to democracy as soon as possible.

“Freedom does not come in a suitcase,” warned many on social media, “just as rebellion is not stopped by a police shield.” We are so hungry that we eat our fears,” was another ubiquitous message.

But now we are so angry that it is they who are afraid of us, that much is clear.

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