Below are two pieces, the first a statement by the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment and the second an article by Cuban journalist Lisbeth Moya González describing the case of Abel Lescay, originally published on websites including Comunistas Cuba.
The Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR) joins all those in Cuba calling for freedom for the hundreds of political prisoners arrested by government forces during, and in the wake of, the July 2021 street protests. We support freedom of political and artistic expression in Cuba and the right of workers, youth, women, Afro-Cubans, and LBGTQ+ people — as well as the marginalized and the poor — to appeal to the government to change those policies which are currently undermining the living conditions of millions of residents on the island.
As revolutionary parties, we denounce the many attempts of the U.S. government to overthrow every gain of the Cuban Revolution. However, the antipathy of U.S. capitalism to the revolution cannot be a justification for the level of state repression we are witnessing in Cuba today. The Cuban social crisis produced the July protests, not the U.S.-backed gusanos in Florida, no matter how much the CIA might wish for the downfall of the Cuban government.
Recently, we have become aware of the case of a young Cuban artist, Abel Lescay, who is facing a seven-year sentence based on government allegations of crimes he supposedly committed during the July demonstrations. His case is one of hundreds of jailed protesters, some facing sentences as long as 30 years. We call for freedom for Abel Lescay and condemn state repression against those who exercise their right to freedom of expression in order to fight for survival needs.
¡Viva Cuba libre! ¡Viva Cuba sin represión!
Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR)
Partido Socialismo y Libertad – Argentina
Partido Obrero Socialista – México
Freedom Socialist Party – United States and Australia
The case of the young Cuban Abel Lescay
by Lisbeth Moya González
The July 11 demonstrations meant change for Cuba. For the first time since 1959, Cubans took to the streets in multiple provinces around the country for many reasons, but mainly because of popular discontent generated by the economic crisis and the policies of the bureaucracy.
It is true that U.S. government sanctions have undermined the Cuban economy. Still when analyzing Cuba one cannot overlook the bureaucratic phenomenon and the lack of popular participation in politics. Dissent is strongly punished. The government response to the July 11 (11J) protests illustrates this.
The government’s reaction to 11J, indeed to any kind of dissent, even from the left, is to label citizens as counterrevolutionaries, politically confused people or “mercenaries” paid by the U.S. government.
The “Archipiélago” phenomenon was an example of this. This platform was created after the events of 11J. It sought to establish a national dialogue, free of ideologies. It called for a peaceful march on November 15. However, through its public statements and the positions of some of its members, this political project ended up showing signs of a turn to the right.
What is remarkable here is not the politics of Archipiélago, but the treatment the government implements to counter this type of dissent. Once again, the media here demeaned the main organizers in every conceivable way without providing an avenue for them to respond. It tried to prove links between Archipiélago’s main organizers and the U.S. government. The Cuban government denounced the November 15 march, asserting that socialism is irrevocable under the country’s constitution and that the goal of this protest was to overthrow it.
However, one of the most worrying issues is that over the weekend during which the November march was planned to take place, one of the blackest chapters in Cuba’s history was repeated on a massive scale. This was the return of “acts of repudiation” organized by the political forces in power to attack the most private space of those who dissent. This included shouting insults and all kinds of verbal abuse at the homes and families of the march organizers.
Imagine waking up with a mob of people in front of your house shouting “counterrevolutionary” at your front door in the middle of your neighborhood and in front of your children and parents. Such “acts of repudiation” were commonplace in Cuba in the 1980s. This is something that has been discussed many times and is something a great number of Cubans are ashamed of. Yet today these events are repeated with a stridency fueled by the involvement of social media.
It is noteworthy that this is taking place as Cuba opens up to “liberalization” of the state-run economy. To counter a crisis, present even before the impact of Covid was felt, the government established a monetary reform policy in 2019. The measure, implemented in a period of shortages, has had injurious consequences for most people. In fact, it has created a measure of economic segregation that has left Cubans desperate, given rising inflation and the lack of basic products.
The monetary reform eliminated the CUC, a form of “hard currency” whose exchange rate was controlled by the government, and which came into circulation in 1994 at the height of the Special Period. The government replaced the CUC with the freely convertible MLC, which allows Cubans to buy goods using foreign currency.
When announcing the policy, Minister of Economy Alejandro Gil said that alongside the MLC stores, other stores would continue selling all kinds of necessary products and take payment in Cuban pesos. He assured Cubans that the purpose of the network of MLC stores was to collect foreign currency to stock the stores that accepted the Cuban peso. In practice this has not occurred. The stores where Cubans with no access to MLC currency are forced to shop have empty shelves and every day stock fewer items. Obtaining basic products in Cuba is a daily odyssey. Despite a rise in wages, money is still short given the high rate of inflation.
It is not surprising, then, that people took to the streets in the face of such a situation–one aggravated by Covid-19; the impossibility of either criticism or popular participation in decision-making; and rote statements that Cuban leaders use in a crude way in the media to “legitimize” their methods.
In Cuba, the word “left” is looked down upon. A large part of the population identifies socialism or left-wing discourse with practices supported by the government. There is a very dissatisfied citizenry with little political education since the school curricula from an early age are focused on political indoctrination in the interests of the powers-that-be and not on the development of knowledge and reasoning in conditions of freedom.
It is no accident then that on July 11 people took to the streets. They were not mercenaries. They were not confused Cubans. They were exhausted people responding to objective contradictions.
Yes, right-wing forces did take to the streets on July 11. But working and marginalized people also demonstrated. It is these people the left should represent. These are the social groups the left needs to reach.
Government supporters also took to the streets on July 11. Many of them were young people of the so-called “official left,” people who for the most part enjoy privileges conferred by the system.
During the chaos that erupted, violence occurred. Unarmed protesters faced all the repressive bodies of the state plus privileged or longtime uncritical defenders of the Cuban revolution, many armed with sticks and supported by the police.
The Cuban government faced a great crisis of governability, and it would be unfair not to consider the extensive U.S. anti-communist propaganda that has flooded the social networks and penetrated deeply into Cubans’ minds. But the internal causes of the social upheaval are there, latent in the continuing changes in Cubans’ daily lives. These causes remain unresolved and are getting worse every day. This is why protesters and their families took to the streets on July 11.
One thousand, two hundred and seventy-one detentions
To date, Justicia11J, the working group focused on politically motivated detentions of Cuban civilians, has documented 1,271 detentions resulting from the July 11 protests. At least 659 people are still in detention. It has been verified that 42 have been sentenced to imprisonment in summary trials and eight in ordinary trials. It’s already known that the prosecution is requesting prison sentences from one to thirty years for 269 people.
The charge of sedition has been used to impose sanctions on at least 122 people, according to Justicia 11J. The group has taken upon itself the task of counting and exposing the numbers of the detained, since no official figures are available.
Government reaction to the July 11 protests was the worst expression of repression of dissent in Cuba. Historically, there has been systematic harassment by state security agencies of dissenters across the political spectrum. Expulsions from places of study or work for ideological reasons and other similar actions have occurred. But on July 11, repression was exercised on the physical bodies of protesters.
Such is the case of the young musician and poet Abel Lescay, who was arrested overnight at his home after demonstrating in the city of Bejucal. His case stands out because he was taken to the police station naked and contracted Covid-19 during the arrest.
Abel went out to demonstrate on J11 like any other citizen. He acted peacefully and did not destroy any property or commit the crimes that the state prosecutor is alleging to justify calling for a seven-year sentence: contempt of authority, aggravated contempt, and public disorder.
Lescay is a student of the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) and could lose his degree if found guilty. He will face trial on December 5 and 6 at the Mayabeque Provincial Court. [Translator’s note: Lescay’s trial has been postponed to early 2022.]
Right to demonstrate
Absurd and inconceivable cases like Abel Lescay’s are now a feature of life in Cuba. When I describe this situation to leftists from other countries, they tell me similar sentences for going out to exercise the right to demonstrate are unheard of. “If that were the case, we would all be eternally in jail,” an Argentine friend commented to me.
I write these lines full of fear, knowing what they mean in terms of repercussions for an alternative left activist like myself who lives and works in Cuba. I write these lines because the main challenge of a leftist militant in Cuba is to be clear about who she is facing and in what context. While as socialists we have the mission to fight against imperialism in the world, and even though these words here could be used to promote other causes, we in Cuba can no longer be silent because the lives of multitudes of people are at stake. This is about the right to dissent. It is about the right to live with dignity.
I call on the international left and those who read this text not to hesitate to investigate and support the cause of the political prisoners in Cuba. I call for international solidarity with Abel Lescay, because only in this way will we be heard. The left must think of itself as one in the world. And we cannot think of the oppressor only as the bourgeoisie because the bureaucracy also oppresses. I never tire of saying it: “Socialism yes! Repression no!”