Cuba: The Maleconazo

Cuban blogs are full of speculation about how the present hardships troubling the island will be resolved, even reflecting on how similar conditions 15 years ago impacted Cuba then. August 5th marked the 15 year anniversary of the largest uprising of discontent the revolutionary government of Castro faced since the early years of the triumph of the revolution. The Maleconazo, as it is known, took place in 1994 around Havana’s well known waterfront route, near the port where the ferry to Regla is moored.

Here, hundreds took the streets when rumors flew that the ferries had been hijacked and were leaving for the United States. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, subsidies from the once superpower ceased, resulting in a major downturn for Cuba's state-run economy. The economic situation became dire, with blackouts and food shortages, and many of Cuba’s youth – then as is the case today – sought to flee to the U.S., taking the path they know best to escape the lack of opportunities and liberties in Cuba.

The government’s response to these actions was to send the state’s fast-acting brigades (department of state security officials) to the congregation at the port, in an effort to control any possible uprisings.  What ensued was a large protest by Cubans who began shouting: “Freedom; Cuba yes, Castro no” and scuffling with police as they expressed their dissatisfaction with conditions on the island. Havana residents began pouring into the streets, significantly increasing the number of protesters. Discontent over the lack food and other basic needs had been building up like a pressure cooker; this was the eruption.

A similar crisis seems to be fermenting in present-day Cuba, the result of cutbacks in dietary goods, energy consumption and other service necessities. An editorial published in the blog Asociación Pro Libertad de Prensa (Association for Freedom of the Press), run by independent journalists in Cuba, asserts:

puede afirmarse que las condiciones políticas, económicas y sociales del país han empeorado.

It can be argued that the political, economic and social conditions of the country have worsened.

The piece goes on to conclude that:

La impopularidad del régimen alcanza cotas difíciles de ser superadas…perdida la confianza y hasta la esperanza…el pueblo espera inútilmente por una muestra de racionalidad o al menos, por un poco menos de egoísmo por parte del gobierno.

The unpopularity of the regime reaches such heights that it will be difficult to overcome…confidence and even hope have been lost…the people who suffer wait in vain for a sign of rationality or at least a little less selfishness on the part of government.

Photos taken by Dutch visitor Karen Poorts to Cuba in 1994 – as well as anonymous home videos of the incident which have been posted on YouTube – show large groups of people marching through the streets, expressing (without fear of repercussion) their discontent with the government.

Award winning blogger Yoani Sanchez chose to video tape the site of the Maleconazo, while other activists and bloggers reported on the measures taken by the state to prevent another Maleconazo, or Day of Resistance. As has been the case for the past two months, Internet connection was very slow, making it challenging for Cuba-based bloggers to send images and reports to bloggers outside Cuba, who then publish their news. Cuban human rights and civil liberty activists were prohibited from undertaking any commemoration events. State security police agents utilized the now-common practice of surrounding neighborhoods, preventing people from leaving their homes or receiving visitors, even for small gatherings.

Interestingly enough, the protests continued online – at least from sources outside Cuba, – with Josan Caballero's Blog even showing solidarity via a Facebook initiative:

La idea nos llega de Facebook. Joel Riev nos propone utilizar hoy, cinco de agosto, este video, junto a las siguientes palabras, que hacemos también nuestras:
‘Propongo a todos de publicar este vídeo en sus páginas (blog y profilo fb) este 5 de agosto, para no olvidar cómo nos cortaron las alas. Yo estaba allí y me arrestaron…’

The idea comes to us from Facebook. Joel Riev proposes that today, the fifth of August, we post this video, along with the following words, which we also make our own:

‘I propose to all who publish this video on their pages (blog and Facebook profile) this August 5, not to forget how they clipped our wings. I was there and they arrested me…’

Penultimos Dias (ES) writes a post which details one Cuban's perspective on The Maleconazo, while the blog sin EVAsión sums up the occasion this way:

Quince años atrás yo no estaba en el Malecón, pero recuerdo ese día como una muestra de la rebeldía de numerosos cubanos, que levantó la expectativa de cambios en muchos de nosotros. Ese día creímos que estaba cercano el fin de la dictadura. Yo nunca he querido irme de la Isla; he creído (románticamente, lo sé) que soy más útil aquí, que pertenezco a este lugar y que mi resistencia es también mi particular homenaje y mi respeto a la Cuba que queremos todos, incluyendo a los que se rebelaron aquel día. Ellos, estén donde estén, son un ejemplo de dignidad. Me gusta pensar que somos algo más que 110 mil kilómetros cuadrados de geografía…Ellos dijeron “basta”; no importa ahora cuán efectiva fue su acción: fue la última muestra de rebeldía popular masiva que recuerde Cuba.

La descarada reseña del Granma a propósito de la fecha me obliga a insistir en un derecho que nos corresponde: el 1ro de enero todavía es suyo; el 5 de agosto es (y será) nuestro.

Fifteen years later I was not in the Levee, but I mark this day as an example of the rebelliousness of numerous Cubans, which raised our expectation of change. On that day we believed that the end of the dictatorship was close at hand. I have never wanted to leave the Island; I have believed (romantically, I am sure) that I am more useful here, that I belong to this place and that my resistance is also my own way of paying my homage and my respect to the Cuba that we we all want, including those who rebelled that day. They, wherever they are, are an example of dignity. I like to think that we are more than 110 thousand square kilometers of geography…They said “enough”; it does not matter now how effective the action was: it was the last demonstration of popular massive rebelliousness in Cuba.

The shameless critique of Granma concerning the date forces me to insist on a right that affects us: the 1st of January it is still his; August 5 is (and will be) ours.

The thumbnail image used in this post, “Pescador en el malecon”, is by Fredo photo, used under a Creative Commons license. Visit Fredo photo's flickr photostream.


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