Two years after 11J: the regime continues to silence voices of protest

Two years after 11J: the regime continues to silence voices of protest

Published on 20 Aug 2023

#AbajoLaDictadura (“Down the dictatorship”) reactivated digital activism in Cuba on July 11

July 11, 2021 set a precedent in the history of citizen protest in Cuba. Thousands of Cubans initiated online protests that also flooded the streets, provoking the Díaz-Canel regime to increase repression and censorship.


The regime’s response at the time was to cut off all communications on the island, while the world joined the #SOSCuba that managed to climb positions in global Twitter trends.


Two years after these demonstrations, the report of detainees and convicts continues to grow, while the narrative that the Cuban regime wants to impose on what happened permeates social networks and holds the U.S. government responsible.


What happened on July 11, 2021?


Two years ago, Cuba experienced one of the largest protests in its history since the 1959 revolution. Thousands of citizens took to the streets with cries of “we are hungry”, “down with the dictatorship” and “freedom”; after months of strict confinement due to the pandemic and a critical economic situation in the absence of tourists.


The Cuban NGO Justicia 11J, in charge of verifying, updating and disseminating information related to public protests in Cuba since July 11, 2021, has documented 1,862 arrests of which 784 detainees are still in prison, 911 have been tried or sanctioned and at least 91 people have gone into exile.


According to official figures, nearly 500 July 11 protesters were sentenced with definitive sentences, some for up to 25 years in prison, including those who were arrested as minors.


This year, several people imprisoned for political reasons carried out various actions in prisons to commemorate the second anniversary of the historic popular uprising, from wearing white and hunger strikes, to reports of disappearances and transfers to punishment cells and threats in prison for these acts.


Added to this is the publication of a joint statement by several prisoners on behalf of the “Libertad y Derecho” movement, demanding their release and calling on the national and international community to continue the struggle to restore the civil and political rights of Cubans.


The Cuban regime’s version


The United States is to blame for everything that has happened. That has been the narrative that Díaz-Canel and all his entourage have been handling since the beginning of the protests.


In an editorial of the Granma newspaper, published on July 10, 2023, the Cuban regime once again accused the United States of stifling it with sanctions (which Havana calls “blockade”), as well as of orchestrating those marches “to overthrow it”. According to the official version, “the United States has a direct responsibility in the riots of July 11 and 12, 2021”.


This year, the regime, hand in hand with the Ministry of the Interior, made an exhibition of the anti-riot suits used on July 11, 2021 to repress the protests and silence the citizens participating in them.


According to the independent media 14yMedio, police, special troops, firefighters and State Security officers, in addition to forensic and Immigration and Alien officials, occupied the most central square of Santa Clara with everything used to quell the social outburst occurred in July 2021, explaining the “techniques” used by these security forces in the “confrontation lines”; taking the opportunity to recruit people with the message: “come to this place if you are interested in being part of this beautiful profession” (sic).


The narrative imposed on the networks


The Cuban regime has a very clear pattern of action in social networks: to overshadow citizen protest through the use of inauthentically coordinated accounts and the use of public institutions to promote its propaganda. This July 11, in commemoration of the two-year anniversary of the iconic protests, the strategy in networks was evidenced as follows.


From ProBox, on July 11, 2023 we registered #LibertadParaLosPresosPoliticos (“Freedom for political prisioners”) as a Twitter trend in Cuba with nearly 4,900 tweets; this hashtag was driven by citizens demanding justice, especially for those detained in the 2021 protests.


In response, the regime positioned three trends: #ConLaFuerzaDelPueblo (“With the strength of the people”) with at least 41,000 tweets, #IslaRebelde (“Rebel island”) with 3,800 tweets apx. and #MiUniversidadEsMiPaís (“My university is my country”) with 1,800 tweets apx. These three tags managed to overshadow the Cuban protest in networks, accumulating 10 times more messages than the amount registered by civil society.


The hashtag #ConLaFuerzaDelPueblo (“With the strength of the people”) was not only promoted by the regime on July 11, in rejection of the events of 2021, but also trended again on the night of July 12. Altogether it accumulated 49,000 tweets approximately. The central line on both occasions talked about how 11J was a reflection of a “Yaqui campaign” against the Government of Cuba in an attempt to execute a “soft coup”.


The regime amplifies its message on the 11J anniversary


In order to better analyze in detail the positioning of narratives by the regime and by civil society, we conducted an analysis of the Cuban conversation between July 1st and August 9th. In this way we attempt to contextualize the narratives of the State and citizen protest around the anniversary of 11J.


On the citizens’ side:


By searching #AbajoLaDictadura, #LibertadParaLosPresosPoliticos and #CubaEsUnaDictadura (“Cuba is a dictatorship”) we found that on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram the day of greatest activity recorded on the part of Cuban social protest occurred on July 11.


In turn, the most repeated words in the messages were: free Cuba, freedom, Castro’s prisoners, forbidden to forget, among others.


The account that stood out the most in this sample composed of interactions in the mentioned networks is that of the digital newspaper San Nicolás de Bari “No + Communism” and the Facebook group of the Patria y Vida Association.


On the side of the regime:


The tags promoted by the communicational apparatus at the service of the regime sought to confront the trends promoted by the citizens.


When analyzing in the same tool the hashtag #ConLaFuerzaDelPueblo on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, July 11 was also the day with the highest use of this hashtag, which responds to a strategy of confrontation of narratives by the Cuban regime against the online protest.


When observing the cloud of most used words, we find mentions linked to anniversaries of the country that are used by the government to promote state propaganda; however, the words “called hate” stand out, which when reviewed yield a standard message that was used massively and inorganically:


“In the face of lies, humbug and the call to hatred and violence of the empire and its mercenaries, the majority decision of the Cuban people and its president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, to overcome stumbling blocks, march forward and save the Revolution, has shone through.”


Some examples of this are evidenced in the account of the Ministry of Food Industry of Cuba on Facebook and in the Instagram account of a Cuban school called Primaria Ramón Ruiz Del Sol, both governmental entities of different scales, replicating the same message through their institutional accounts with the hashtag #ConLaFuerzaDelPueblo.


One of the main accounts that also promoted this hashtag as part of their publications during this month, in some cases without direct relation, was an unofficial Facebook account linked to the National Revolutionary Police called Héroes de Azul en Cuba.

A practice that perpetuates injustice


While the Cuban regime continues to use its coordinated digital troops to obscure the reality that Cubans live, as well as public institutions to disseminate its propaganda, the injustices against the Cuban people not only continue to remain unresolved, but also continue to lack the attention and solidarity of the entire international community.


Our support, accompaniment and respect to all organizations, journalists, activists, media and other members of civil society who continue to tell the reality of Cuba in every possible way. Remember: in social networks, not everything massive is real.


Follow us on all social networks as @ProBoxVE for more information and content on these issues.

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