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Impoverished neighborhood of Havana rocked by protest condemnations

#Impoverished #neighborhood #Havana #rocked #protest #condemnations

When Wilbert Aguilar had to tell his wife that her son had been sentenced to 23 years in prison for taking part in anti-government protests in Cuba, the life of the 49-year-old day laborer collapsed.

“I had to wash, scrub, cook because my wife lost her mind,” he told AFP.

After that, he had to take care of his daughter-in-law and his two granddaughters.

Aguilar’s 22-year-old son Wagniel was one of more than 160 people from La Guinera, a poor Havana neighborhood, jailed for taking part in the unprecedented protests that erupted across Cuba in July 2021.

Communist Cuba was and still is in an economic crisis and the protesters shouted “We’re hungry!” and demanded “Freedom!”

Since then, the government has tried to make amends in La Guinera, a predominantly black neighborhood that’s part of Havana’s most populous community, Arroyo Naranjo, which is also among the capital’s poorest.

Authorities have filled potholes, painted warehouses, reopened and restocked medical centers, and promised new homes to some families.

It is part of a program being implemented in 60 neighborhoods of Havana to improve people’s lives.

But the demonstrators remain in prison.

Elizabet Leon Martinez, 51, worked as a manicurist before three of her five children were jailed.

“I can’t give anymore, my nerves are broken, I have no life, I have nothing,” she said, never taking her eyes off her phone in case someone from prison might call.

“I take care of my grandchildren because I don’t have a job and I couldn’t work either.”

– “Hard Penalties” –

On July 12, 2021, hundreds of protesters gathered at the police station at the entrance of La Guinera.

They were blocked by Communist Party (PCC) activists, backed by a massive presence of riot police.

Rocks, bottles and sticks were thrown and the streets were littered with broken glass and rocks.

The only person killed during the protests died in this neighborhood. Dozens of people were injured and more than 1,300 arrested across the country, human rights NGO Cubalex said.

Of the 790 accused, 488 received prison sentences of up to 25 years, the government said, mostly on charges of sedition.

The United States has said it would work with allies to support those who have been “wrongly” imprisoned and sentenced to “harsh sentences.”

Pensioner Jorge Gil, 72, a PCC representative for La Guinera, says the protests stem from years of abandonment.

He lives with his family in temporary housing after his home was demolished as part of the neighborhood improvement program and is due to be rebuilt.

But the materials to rebuild his home never arrived.

Isabel Hernandez, 44, lives across from Gil in a freshly painted house with a corrugated iron roof.

One of her sons was also jailed over the protests.

Despite this, her home was renovated in just six months thanks to the improvement program.

“I’m very happy,” she said.

– “Her weapon was her voice” –

Some people see the suppression of the July 2021 protests as a triumph for the communist revolution.

“We are beyond grateful, President, for all the changes in our neighborhood,” said Ileana Macias, a local leader and member of the Santeria religious community, during a meeting between women from the community and the country’s leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel .

But Wilbert Aguilar is sad. He denies that the demonstrators were “counter-revolutionaries”.

“They were not armed, their only weapon was their voice,” he said.

His son Wagniel’s prison sentence was reduced to 12 years on appeal.

Even Gil, who vehemently defends the island nation’s socialist system, admits he’s in pain.

“I hope that this is an issue that will be resolved quickly and that the majority of these youth will be set free because, at the end of the day, they are youth and they need to learn.”

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#Impoverished #neighborhood #Havana #rocked #protest #condemnations

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