MARACAIBO, VENEZUELA — When thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest this month, thanks to the rise of social media, their calls for freedom and an end to “dictatorship” were heard around the world.
In the city of San Antonio de los Baos, 20 kilometers southwest of the capital Havana, residents gathered on July 11 to protest a shortage of basic products and medicines. His call was shared via Facebook Live in broadcasts known as “direct” to the island.
The images revealed an unprecedented rush, repeated in at least 20 towns and cities across the island.
But by around 4 p.m., due to internet service restrictions and selective blocking of some networks, broadcasts abruptly ceased in many areas.
The Associated Press reported that the partial blockade caused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to request that President Joe Biden’s administration support efforts to maintain Internet service in Cuba with the use of Wi-Fi balloons.
Andres Canizalez, a Venezuelan journalist and managing director of Mediaanalysis, a non-profit that promotes and supports the media, believes that despair over Cuba’s socio-economic situation has been “hot” in recent months, some To a large extent because of the comments shared through social media by the youth and of the artist.
“What we’ve seen now was unexpected in Cuba, it was an outbreak, but the expression of disapproval of the dictatorship on social media may be linked to the Arab Spring,” Canizalez told VOA in an interview, calling for democracy and greater rights Referring to the demanding movement in 2011 in several countries in North Africa and the Middle East.
“Once the first exposure is seen on the streets, it has a multiplier effect on an exhausted population,” Canizalez said.
Canizalez, who previously lived in Cuba, cited the title of a book by Czech author Václav Havel to describe the impact of social media on the protests.
“To me, social media is the ‘power of the powerless.’ They are catalysts. It is the possibility that ordinary people or activists who do not have cannons, newspapers or news channels can perform, engage with others, can speak and express their disapproval of what they are living. That’s the key,” he said.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel condemned the protests, saying they were involved in the “obscene” behavior of protesters attacking police.
Cuban officials have said some protesters had “legitimate dissent”, but blamed the protests on US-funded “counter-revolutionaries” taking advantage of the economic hardship caused by US sanctions, Reuters reported.
Rights groups say hundreds of protesters and opposition figures have been arrested. There are at least 47 journalists, according to the Cuban Institute for the Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP), an organization that supports opposition media on the island.
Journalists who spoke with the VOA this week say police attempted to intimidate them in custody, or that security guards were stationed outside their homes. ICLEP says Juan Manuel Moreno Borrego, a journalist covering the protests with local news website Amanesar Habanero, was briefly detained on Thursday.
Cuba detained, questioned dozens of journalists on protest coverage
‘They tried to scare me,’ says Cuban journalist, detained for a week in Havana and now under house arrest
Luis Carlos Díaz, a Venezuelan journalist specializing in online activism, said that live broadcasts or instant messaging can “make protests visible” outside Cuba, but they have “limited impact” within its borders.
“Social networks as we know it are not necessary to escalate protests. What makes them multiply manifold is the outrage and crowds gathered on the streets. It’s not like people are watching Twitter at home,” Diaz told VOA.
Internet fraud tools have helped some Cubans stay online, including Siphon, a tool developed with funding from the Open Technology Fund (OTF). Part of the US Agency for Global Media, OTF promotes Internet freedom and supports open-source technology to help citizens in the most censored countries.
Siphon’s daily unique users have increased significantly since the protest, said Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn.
Blackburn told VOA, “It’s to allow people who are in a country where the government has cut the internet, trying to isolate people and stop them from communicating, they can use this technology.” so that they can still communicate.” Also part of the US Agency for Global Media.
“As of (July 14) we had more than a quarter million Cubans who were using it in their fight for democracy, their fight for freedom, food and water and electricity and their fight for jobs,” Blackburn said.
He pointed to video footage and interviews emanating from Cuba as examples of the importance of such equipment.
Journalist Diaz told VOA that restrictions on Internet connectivity are a common feature of dictatorships, such as in Cuba, China, Russia, Belarus and some countries in the Middle East.
He said the worst sanctions are in Venezuela, which “has the most blocked web pages, more people imprisoned by online opinion and the region has the biggest drop in connectivity.”
But despite those obstacles, citizens find ways to access information and document events.
“People without internet can continue to record what happens. You can record, photograph, write, interview, document,” he said. “And then when the connection comes back, when someone reconnects, then the information flows again.”
It is difficult to stop that process in countries like Cuba or Venezuela, Diaz said, adding that “hope is contagious.”
Some information for this report has been received from The Associated Press and Reuters.
This report originated in VOA’s Spanish language service.