11 July protests
On 11 July, spontaneous and peaceful protests took place across Cuba in response to the island’s ongoing and severe economic crisis and a record surge in coronavirus cases, before expanding to criticisms of the CCP’s decades-long hold on power, crackdown on human rights and pro-democracy movement, and management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Miguel Díaz Canel made televised public calls for ‘revolutionaries’ to take to the streets to defend the Revolution in an ‘order to combat’. Several reports emerged of violence against protesters, including one incident in which an Associated Press photographer was violently beaten by members of the police and Cuban State Security. One protester was also reportedly shot in the stomach.
While some activists participated in the protests, the majority of those who marched were everyday citizens, including people of different religions or beliefs or none. Several religious leaders present at the protests were detained. While most were released, some faced criminal charges including ‘disrespect’ and ‘public disorder’, as was the case with Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo of the independent Monte de Sion Independent Church in Palma Soriano, Santiago. Other pastors, such as Berean Baptist church leaders Yarian Sierra Madrigal and Yéremi Blanco Ramírez in Matanzas, were detained and held incommunicado for two weeks. Religious leaders who have spoken out against the arbitrary detention of these pastor, like Berean Baptist pastor Jatniel Perez Feria, also came under fire from the police authorities. Since July, Pastor Perez Feria has been under regular surveillance by State Security agents and has been prevented from leaving his home on multiple occasions.
In Jovellanos, Matanzas, Reverend Carlos Raul Macias Lopez and his oldest son joined the protests. As they walked along the road, they were cornered by a pro-government group who verbally and physically attacked them. The group attempted to hold Reverend Macias Lopez and his son so that they could be arrested and taken into custody, but the two managed to escape and return home. Military officers met him there and informed him that he was under house arrest. On 13 July he was summoned to the Jovellanos police station and threatened with imprisonment if he were to participate in any way in future protests of any kind.
CSW received confirmed reports of eight religious leaders who were arbitrarily detained in connection the protests, sometimes violently. Most of these leaders were later released but have faced ongoing harassment and threats of rearrest. Religious leaders who were detained on 11 July included Pastors Yéremi Blanco Ramírez and Yarian Sierra Madrigal. The two men were held incommunicado for two weeks in a State Security wing of the women’s prison in Matanzas and in another State Security facility. While he was detained, the family of Pastor Sierra Madrigal was evicted from their home18 after their landlord faced pressure to do so from State Security. The two men were released on 24 July but were fined and threatened with imprisonment if they were to engage in any activity perceived by the government as critical of the system. Both pastors, who live in Matanzas, were summoned by State Security on 21 October and forced to sign an ‘Acta de Advertencia’, regarding possible future crimes including participation in any other protests.
Father Castor José Álvarez Devesa, a Roman Catholic priest in Camaguey, was another religious leader detained during the protest. Father Álvarez Devesa was beaten and arrested as he attempted to assist a 14-year-old boy who was being beaten by the police during the peaceful protests. He received a heavy blow to the head, for which he required stitches, and approached the police to request medical assistance. The police took him into custody and provided him with medical treatment but then imprisoned him alongside other protestors. He was held for almost 24 hours before being released into the custody of his archbishop. However, he was later informed that he faced unspecified criminal offences and was banned from travelling abroad pending trial. In January 2022 the priest reported that he had received notification that charges would not be pursued and the travel ban was lifted.
The most severe case involving a religious leader in relation to the 11 July protest is that of Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, the leader of the independent Monte de Sion Church in Palma Soriano. An eyewitness was able to photograph the moment Rev Rosales Fajardo was detained as the pastor was held in a chokehold by a uniformed member of the Black Berets – a Cuban paramilitary force responsible for serious human rights violations. He was held incommunicado in Versalles, a State Security facility in the city of Santiago de Cuba, until August when he was transferred to the Boniato Maximum Security Prison, located outside Santiago de Cuba. During his time in prison, the pastor has been subjected to severe beatings and inhumane treatment. He was charged with crimes including ‘disrespect’, ‘public disorder’, ‘criminal incitement’ and ‘assault’. His lawyer has unsuccessfully filed one habeas corpus request and nine attempts to appeal the ‘cautionary measures’ which define the terms of his imprisonment and allow him to be held in prison indefinitely pending trial.
On 22 October Reverend Rosales Fajardo’s wife, Maridilegnis Carballo Castellano, was informed that the government is seeking to impose a ten-year prison sentence on Reverend Rosales Fajardo. At first, his family was informed on 3 December that his trial would take place on 7, 8 or 9 December.19 However, on 6 December they were told that the trial had been suspended indefinitely.20 His family were notified of the final date only days before the trial took place on 20 and 21 December. During the trial, government prosecutors accused the pastor, along with the other defendants, of inciting fellow civilians to violently attack police officials. According to reports21 from independent journalist Yoel ‘Yoe’ Suárez Fernandez, the Public Prosecutor’s office was permitted to call 17 witnesses to testify against the accused, while Pastor Rosales Fajardo’s lawyer was able to bring only two witnesses, and only one family member was able to observe the proceedings. As of 10 February 2022, he is still awaiting sentencing.
His wife, Ms Maridilegnis Carballo, who was present, described the trial as a ‘show’ in which the prosecution failed to present any concrete evidence for the defendants’ ‘crimes’.
Rev Rosales Fajardo and his family have been a target of the Cuban government since 2009 when the authorities arbitrarily confiscated their home, which also acted as their church. Reverend Rosales Fajardo was labelled a counter-revolutionary by State Security officer Luis Noel Plutin Rodriguez, who was involved in the property confiscation. Officer Plutin Rodriguez is now the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) Delegate and was responsible for the decision to charge and imprison Rev Rosales Fajardo after his detention at the 11 July protests.
Reverend Rosales Fajardo’s son, David Rosales Carballo, was 17 at the time and was also present at the protests with his father on 11 July. The young man – a minor at the time – was detained alongside his father but was eventually separated from him and transported, while handcuffed to another prisoner, in a blacked-out truck. The prisoner to whom he was handcuffed was beaten so badly after he demanded to know where they were being taken, that Mr Rosales Carballo felt the other prisoner’s blood spatter on him. While he was detained, Mr Rosales Carballo was not given water, and said he and other prisoners survived by drinking a few drops each day from a leaking faucet.
After Reverend Rosales Fajardo and Mr Rosales Carballo were detained, Mrs Carballo went back and forth to police stations and MININT offices to try to ascertain their status and location. After a few days, she was finally told where her husband was being held, but the authorities claimed to have no knowledge of her son’s whereabouts. He was considered disappeared for a week. Despite this, while the teenager was missing, his mother was forced to sign a document stating that he had been charged with ‘disrespect’ and ‘public disorder’ and had to pay a 2,000 peso fine on his behalf. On 18 July at 11pm, Mr Rosales Carballo returned home. His mother described him as physically unhurt but psychologically traumatised. She also told CSW that she has been threatened that there will be repercussions for her son if she continues to speak out about the detention of his father. Since his detention, Mr Rosales Carballo has been required to check in at the local police station on a weekly basis and has been subjected to harassment and threats by the authorities.
In the days after 11 July, protests continued in different forms. On 13 July in San Jose de las Lajas, Mayabeque, Enrique Fundora and other young couples from the Jehová Samah Apostolic Movement were tasked with handing out free water to protesters in an effort to calm the volatile situation and to help peaceful protestors avoid dehydration in the intense heat; funds for the water had been collected from churchgoers. In response, the political police surrounded the homes of Enrique Fundora and the other couples who participated, preventing them from distributing the water. Many members of the church also reported that they were confined to their homes even as pro-government mobs and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets.