As activists plan nationwide protests, Cuba accuses U.S. of involvement

As activists in Cuba defy the government and continue preparing for nationwide protests Nov. 15, the government is ratcheting up its rhetoric against the U.S., accusing it of financing and directing protesters.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel said in a speech Sunday that the protests were “a plan orchestrated by the exterior.”

In the province of Matanzas, east of the capital, Havana, authorities on Sunday observed “el día territorial de la defensa” — loosely translated as a territorial defense day — to prepare for a possible invasion from what the government called “the enemy.”

A video on a Cuban news broadcast showed defense officials meeting with local workers about preparedness, armed people practicing a response to an attack and schools holding drills.

In his speech, Díaz-Canel said earlier protests on July 11 were “nothing more than provocations and acts of vandalism as part of the strategy of the nonconventional war and the ‘soft coup’ against our revolution.”

He said the march being organized for less than three weeks from now involves think tanks and U.S. government spokespeople.

The planned march’s most vocal leader, Yunior García, denied the claims and said organizers had made a pact not to take outside funding.

The U.S. has expressed support for the protesters after the events in July. After the Cuban government’s crackdown, the U.S. sanctioned several government officials and entities in August.

Díaz-Canel said the U.S. Embassy in Havana is “subverting the internal order of our country.” He said U.S. diplomats frequently meet with “those who head the counterrevolution,” saying they offer orientation, logistical support and financing.

A State Department spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday that “the U.S. government supports the right of Cubans and people everywhere to exercise their freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” adding, “We call on the Cuban government to respect these rights and see this not as an attack, but as an opportunity to listen to the Cuban people and do what is right for Cubans and for Cuba.”   

The Cuban Embassy in the U.S. has not responded to a request for comment.

In his speech, Díaz-Canel said, “The declared objective of the United States government is to topple the Cuban revolution.”

He said that the Biden administration’s policy toward Cuba is “trapped by its desire to win the Florida vote,” which he said is dominated by “the Cuban American mafia in Miami,” remarks similar to those he and other officials have made in the past.

The tone is similar to the one Cuba struck after the historic protests on July 11, when thousands of people took to the streets to air grievances, from the lack of political change to the chronic shortages on the island.

While Díaz-Canel said in July that the government had to make “a critical analysis of our own problems … so we can transform situations,” he blamed the U.S. and the effects of the decadeslong embargo for the protests.

Government officials have begun to vilify the young activists planning the Nov. 15 protests on state-run television, accusing them of being directed by the U.S.

The government rejected the activists’ official request to protest, saying it was an effort to overthrow the government. The day of the march coincides with the day Cuba opens its borders to tourism.

Lillian Guerra, a professor of Cuban and Caribbean history at the University of Florida, said “fearmongering” about a U.S. invasion was one of the pillars of the Cuban government’s discourse before the 2000s.

“What that entails is not just fear of a U.S. invasion,” Guerra said. “It was fear that exiles, people who had ‘made it in the United States,’ were going to come back and take over their country.”

But “that argument doesn’t work anymore,” and it doesn’t reflect what many in Cuba see on the ground as more Cuban Americans have invested in the island through family ties, improving economic conditions for their relatives, she said.

For Cubans in the island advocating for changes from the government, preparing for a U.S. invasion seems out of touch with their reality.

The Cuban government’s strategy of blaming the U.S. to “neutralize the discussions” about the protests and pushing a theory that there is “no discontent on the island” doesn’t take into account the reality on the ground, Guerra said.

“What is arising is oppositional culture,” she said. “It’s not a rising opposition. It’s a rising oppositional culture.”

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