Cuba calls for 'National Defense Day' on the same day of human rights protests

HAVANA – Cuba announced on Friday that it would conduct annual military exercises on November 18 and 19, which will result in a day of civil defense preparation on November 20, the same day dissidents are planning human rights protests across the country.

The communist-led country was rocked by social unrest for two days in July, with the largest anti-government protests in decades resulting in hundreds of arrests, one death and calls for US intervention by some Cubans.

A brief communiqué from the armed forces released on state media said defense drills, which were canceled last year, along with other activities, would resume as a vaccination campaign nears its goal of immunizing the entire population against COVID-19.

The aim of the November 20th demonstrations, called by a Facebook group called Archipelago, was to call for civil liberties, including the right to peaceful protest and an amnesty for detained opponents of the government.

Well-known opponents of the government remain behind bars after the unrest of July 11-12, and some face long prison sentences.

Members of the archipelago say the group has around 20,000 members, many of whom live outside the country.

The government’s defense preparations are part of a military doctrine known as the “people’s war” to respond to a US invasion. On the final day, thousands of civilians are there evacuating the work centers, tending to the wounded, providing weapons training and logistical support such as bullet making and cooking.

Civilians have also been used in the past to strengthen the government in times of public disagreement, with protesters harassed, for example, by members of local bloc committees known as Committees to Defend the Revolution or official unions.

“THREAT FROM THE WEAPONS”

“They intend to continue militarizing the country for 20N (November 20th),” tweeted playwright Yunior Garcia, administrator of the archipelago and leader of the planned protests.

In contrast to the largely spontaneous riots in July, the group applied for permission to march in various cities on November 20, to which the government has not yet responded.

“Given the courtesy of our march, they respond with gun threats. Why so afraid that people will speak their minds? Guns, no! Rights, ”said Garcia.

The authorities in Cuba have long referred to dissidents as small groups in the pay of the United States. They accuse their opponents of working with Washington to stir up unrest and impose increasingly harsh economic sanctions during the pandemic in hopes of overthrowing the government.

Residents faced food, drug and other shortages amid coronavirus lockdowns and a severe blow to the tourism industry, and have suffered long lines, high prices and power outages in recent years.

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