Inside Cuba’s Violent Crackdown on Dissent Where Anti-government Protesters Are Stripped Naked, Beaten, and Forced to Shout ‘Viva Fidel!’

People shout slogans against the government during a protest against and in support of the government, amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Havana, Cuba July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

When Cubans took to the streets in July for the biggest challenge to the communist state in decades, Michel Parra joined the electric crowds. “For the first time in my life, I was marching,” the 20-year-old hospital worker said.

But exhilaration turned to fear when men in civilian clothes snatched Parra and his sister from the protest in Matanzas. Hauled to the local Técnico – a feared facility run by Cuba’s state security services – he was taken to an interrogation room. “They were yelling, saying they would shoot me and my family,” he said. “I begged them to stop while they kept calling me a gusano” – a worm, the state slur against anti-communist Cubans.

“They gave me a slap that knocked me to the floor,” Parra said. “I was kicked all over my body. They wouldn’t stop. I was hit in my hands and knees with a baton. For me, it took forever, but maybe it was only 60 seconds. What I know is that I felt pain for 20 days straight.”

One hundred days after the nationwide demonstrations of July 11, when dissidents and ordinary citizens turned out in mass to protest the government’s handling of the coronavirus, energy shortages and the economy, the extent of the police state’s crackdown is becoming clear.

Massive sweeps by security forces in the hours and days after the protests saw more than 1,000 people detained. Even now, nearly 500 – the most political prisoners held in Cuba in at least two decades – remain behind bars and locked in murky legal proceedings, according to Cubalex, a nonprofit that has monitored the detentions.

In many cases, detainees were subjected to beatings, humiliation and psychological abuse, according to a sweeping report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch. It provides the most detailed accounting yet of Cuba’s swift shutdown of dissent.

Several of the accounts were confirmed by The Washington Post through independent interviews with detainees who have been released and family members of those who remain jailed. They include prisoners punished for refusing to shout “long live Fidel!”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Greenwich Time