Two years ago on July 11, 2021, tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest against the government over the scarcity of medicine, fuel, and food, as well as the decades-long trampling of their human rights.
Security forces responded with tear gas and beatings. Thousands of people were arrested, including prominent human rights activists, artists, and religious leaders.
Many of those arrested reported cruel and degrading treatment in prison. Jose Daniel Ferrer García is a case in point. According to the latest State Department Human Rights Report, he has been in solitary confinement since his arrest in a cell without windows or ventilation. The cell was also illuminated 24 hours a day during most of the past year.
Imprisoned artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, recently published a letter in The Miami Herald entitled “Cuba’s authorities have stolen my youth just for speaking my mind.” He wrote, “Today every young Cuban is a political prisoner. A censored artist. An exile inside and outside Cuba.”
“All we did was demand the right to choose our political future and to speak our minds.”
“No one should have to give up their youth for such a just cause,” he concluded.
Alcántara began a hunger and thirst strike on June 6, and no one has heard from him since, according to Claudia Genlui, a Cuban activist and friend of Alcántara's.
“The world will not forget those who bravely made their voices heard in the face of extreme repression,” said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller in a statement, “including the more than 700 individuals who remain in Cuban jails, condemned to prison sentences ranging up to 25 years for exercising their freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.”
The U.S. government has imposed several rounds of sanctions and visa restrictions targeting those individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses, including the harsh treatment of July 11th protestors. The United States, said spokesperson Miller, calls for “the immediate release of unjustly detained political prisoners and urge(s) the international community to join us in demanding the Cuban government release the hundreds of students, journalists, artists, young people, and others unjustly imprisoned.”