For 18 days, Cuban journalist Luz Escobar was unable to leave her home. Since the July 11 protests, a State Security official has been watching the entrance to the building where she lives with her two daughters, in Havana, Cuba’s capital. No charges lay against her, she had not been arrested at the demonstrations, but her work to denounce the regime’s barbarities was considered reason enough for the government to place her under surveillance. The only time he managed to leave the house these days was to get the Covid-19 vaccine and, even so, escorted by the guard.
Other independent island journalists, artists and activists have also told similar stories. these prisons in fact they are used to intimidate dissidents and, since the early years of the Cuban revolution, have been part of the extensive handbook of the state’s repressive forces. Other methods that have been taking place in Cuba without much international questioning include frequent arbitrary arrests, official warnings, preventing dissidents from working and earning a living, criminalizing individuals who try to exercise their human rights, seeking to force them into exile.
An important part of Cuba’s crackdown is the secret police, officially called the Department of State Security, which is in charge of counterintelligence operations and operates under the umbrella of the Ministry of Interior.
“Historically, Cuban State Security has been very successful in infiltrating dissident organizations,” he tells People’s Gazette the specialist in Latin America, William LeoGrande.
“In 2003, when the government arrested several hundred dissidents and convicted 75 of them receiving US assistance to subvert the government, several state security agents who worked for years undercover in their organizations testified against them,” he said, recalling an episode that it became known as the “Black Spring of Cuba” and gave rise to the Damas de Blanco movement – which is also being watched by the regime in this new wave of repression.
State Security, created in the 1960s with support from the Soviet Union, is also responsible for monitoring the communications of dissidents in order to prevent them from carrying out plans to assemble or hold demonstrations, temporarily placing them under house arrest. In recent freedom protests in Cuba, the role of the secret police was most likely to identify people involved in leading the demonstrations, LeoGrande said.
The proportion of secret police agents in the Cuban population is estimated to be greater than that of the infamous Stasi, who operated in East Berlin. But the regime’s “success” in repressing dissidents, or “anti-socials,” is also due to the Revolution’s Defense Committees.
Established in the 1960s, they provided – and still provide – an important network of informers to the regime: ordinary citizens who monitor neighbors’ activities and report illegal actions such as shopping on the black market, disobeying Communist Party orders or participating in movements of opposition. This system was designed to avoid constant repressive actions by the political police or the army, in addition to reducing costs for the state, according to political scientist Josep Colomer.
In addition to informers, the Revolutionary Defense Committees are responsible for organizing pro-regime marches, such as those observed on the island after the freedom protests, and for making propaganda for the regime.
Often, members of the CDR appear in state press reports to speak highly of the government, as in the case in which the national coordinator of the committees, Gerardo Nordelo, went to San Isidro, in Havana, to show on his social networks that “there are revolutionary people” in the “real and not the virtual neighborhood as some media show”, referring to to news in international and independent media about protests that took place in San Isidro – where the San Isidro Movement was born, a group that is currently one of the main critics of Díaz-Canel.
The committees, according to data from the regime, have more than eight million members in a country of eleven million inhabitants. In 2013, Raúl Castro defined them as “the most powerful army” on the island. However, membership in these groups is believed to be declining – a sign of this is that the government was taken by surprise by the July 11 protests – which made the role of the political police more relevant to the repression system.
When the system of surveillance and repression of individuals fails, the “black berets”, the elite squadron of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) enter the scene. Formally called the National Special Brigade (BEN), they were responsible for the scenes of violence observed during the repression of the 11 July protests.
In the days that followed, they were assigned to security on the streets of several Cuban cities, with the aim of intimidating the population and curbing any demonstration against the dictatorship. They were also caught on video breaking into a family’s home to take a man arrested.
The brutality of the actions prompted the US government to impose sanctions against the brigade. The Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, Álvaro “López Miera, and the Special National Brigade were involved in suppressing the protests, including through physical violence and intimidation,” said the US State Department when announcing the sanctions.
Last year, the black berets turned 40 and during the anniversary celebrations, the regime presented them as “a professional technical force with high political and ideological values” and reiterated their members’ ability to “confront counterrevolutionary, criminal and antisocial activities “.
“We train to defend the Revolution and defend our achievements,” Major Adalberto Soriano Vidal said in a report for state TV.