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Authorities in Cuba begin to punish young protesters in summary trials

Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Several videos published on social media by Cubans on the island have documented how police, military officials, and pro-government mobs beat the demonstrators. Some videos show officers shooting at protesters.

But on state TV, the official version has been the opposite.

Moraima Bravet Garófalo, a coloned in the Interior Ministry, said the demonstrations were violent and “were carried out with the use of stones and knives, such as machetes, to attack law enforcement.” State television has shown images only of overturned police cars or people looting a government dollar store that sells much-needed food and necessities.

The colonel also said that minors were not going to be prosecuted. Although Cuba’s age of majority is 18, the country’s laws allow for charging those 16 and older. Those between 17 and 20, like Celaya, serve their sentences in separate prison facilities or different jail wings.

Government officials also denied Tuesday that there were people “missing” or “tortured” on the island, and said the list of detainees compiled by activists and international human rights organizations was false.

The denial came after a statement by a university student, Leonardo Romero, made the rounds on social media.

Romero told a pro-government youth publication, La Joven Cuba, that police officers beat him after his arrest on Sunday in Havana.

“They took me to the Dragones station and when we entered, they threw me violently on the floor and four people kicked me all over,” he said. “I covered my face with my forearms and they kept kicking me. That’s why I have a swollen forearm, a doctor saw it. My ribs also hurt.”

 

Romero said he was then taken to a courtyard, where another officer hit him on his legs with a wooden plank. Then, before he was transferred to another police station, a different officer headbutted him on the nose, saying he did it because Romero was a “mercenary.”

“I almost fainted, and they kept beating me before transferring me to the Zanja station,” Romero said.

The fact that his comments were published on a website that used to attack dissidents signals how widespread is the discontent toward the government’s crackdown on young protesters.

The Herald could not independently verify Romero’s testimony. After his case was mentioned on state television Tuesday, he told friends he was not doing any more media interviews for the time being. Without mentioning his name, a government prosecutor said that his case was being investigated after his father made a formal complaint with Cuba’s attorney general’s office.

Lobón said the list of detainees she is helping to compile and fact-check is based on information provided by family members and friends, and challenged the government to release the official number of arrests following the islandwide protests.

“The Cuban legal system is a black hole, and when you fall through it, you’re helpless,” she said. “Most people arrested did not commit any crimes, but they want to make a public example of them. The summary trials have just started, but there are many more to come.”

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