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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

Cuban authorities have begun prosecuting participants in the recent unprecedented anti-government demonstrations in summary trials that started this week, family members and activists told the Miami Herald.

Young people, even minors, have been among the main targets.

Photographer Anyelo Troya, 25, was tried on Tuesday and sentenced to one year in prison under “public disorder” charges, family members and activists told the Herald.

“They didn’t let me see him,” said his mother, Raiza Gonzalez, in a brief phone interview.

After she learned that her son was being held in the feared “100 and Aldabo” police station on Monday, she went to look for a lawyer. But when they returned Tuesday to see him, it was too late.

“When we arrived, we were told he was being tried in a Diez de Octubre court (on the other end of Havana). We rushed, but we got there too late; he was already tried along with 10 other” young protesters, she said.

“Where is the right of my son Anyelo Troya González to have a transparent trial?” Gonzalez wrote on Twitter. “ I am befuddled by the reality that I am living in.”

Troya worked in the production of the video of the viral song "Patria y Vida," featuring members of the San Isidro artist-activist movement. The song quickly became an anti-government anthem, and thousands of demonstrators chanted “Patria y Vida” — Homeland and Life — in several cities during the protests.

Dance student Amanda Celaya, 17, will be tried Thursday, authorities told family members.

“Finally, my niece Amanda Hernández Celaya was released last night to remain at home until Thursday 22, when she will be brought to trial. What is she accused of? ‘Public disorder,’” independent journalist Miriam Celaya wrote on Facebook.

Miriam Celaya told the Herald her niece was arrested Sunday in Havana because she was seen recording the demonstrations with her cellphone. “She is not involved in politics. Apparently, she was just recording the demonstration with her cellphone,” she said.

Camila Lobón, a visual artist and activist who has been helping to confirm details of those arrested, said in a phone interview that she is aware of another two cases of protesters who will be tried soon: Alexander Diego Gil, an actor, and Randy Arteaga.

“Arteaga was detained in Villa Clara, and he is the only child of an elderly couple. He is their only provider; they don’t have money to pay for a lawyer,” Lobón said. “They don’t even have a phone, so activists have to go to their house to communicate with them.

“It is a precarious situation for many families,” she added. “There’s ignorance of what they should do, legally. There’s helplessness and there’s fear, because many fear authorities would retaliate if they speak out.”

Summary trials, which began in the early days of the revolution, are not a thing of the past in Cuba. They have been used in cases involving dissidents and people allegedly breaking COVID-19 government restrictions.

“It is an express procedure for minor crimes,” said Cuban lawyer Laritza Diversent. “In summary trials, the time of ordinary proceedings can be cut in half. Someone can be sent to trial anytime between 2 and 45 days. The sentence is handed down orally; there is almost no documentation of the whole process, making any appeal difficult. It is very arbitrary.”

It is unclear why some demonstrators have been released while others will be tried. Authorities contend those charged had committed violent crimes, and many had a prior police record, but that doesn’t fit the profile of some of the people like Celaya and Troya currently being held.

“The fact that they are charging people with public disorder shows they were just peaceful protesters and did not commit any crimes,” Lobón said in a phone interview.


She said public disorder charges are frequently used against dissidents and activists like her that participate in public demonstrations against the government. She was one of the young artists arrested after a protest in front of the Ministry of Culture last year. She says that police and state security officers have prevented her from leaving her house for the past 29 days.

“So far, there are 537 documented detentions. They could not all be involved in ‘acts of vandalism,'" she said, in reference to the version peddled by the Cuban government.

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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