When we reported last night about the social media push to Free Cuba, in light of recent events in Cairo, there was a grand confirmation of a massive demonstration in Havana at 5pm EST on February 21. The anti-Castro, pro-democracy movement on Facebook, which had reached over 4,000 fans in a span of just two weeks, was eagerly anticipating the spark that would ignite regime change in Latin America’s oldest Communist government.
Earlier tweets from the BBC’s Cuban correspondent didn’t deter them. One tweet in Spanish from the BBC’s Fernando Ravsberg, who is based in Havana, said the following: “The call for protests on Facebook to begin on Monday did not cause any great results.” Ravsberg also tweeted this: “Friends, I went out this morning around the city and returned at noon. No protests and police presence was as normal as any other day.” When we shared these tweets with the Cuban exiles who formed the majority of the Facebook page, we were told that Ravsberg was a puppet of Fidel. Yeah, the BBC is a puppet of the Cuban government. FREE CUBA! THE TIME IS NOW!
In addition, the very vocal and prolific blogger Yoani Sánchez had nothing to say about February 21. Just another normal day. We would think that is Sánchez knew that something was actually materializing, she would have used her vast social network (she also guests blogs for the Huffington Post) to shout that the resistance was happening and that Cairo had come to Havana.
Then, as I dug a little bit more, around 6pm EST tonight, I found a YouTube video that apparently filmed an empty park today in Havana, the same place and time where the demonstration was to take place:
Now, most anti-Castro critics will argue that the video has no factual proof that it was filmed on February 21 at exactly the same place and time where the demonstration was scheduled to take place. True, the video has no proof. But in the world of social media, the message is just as important as the facts. If indeed the video was filmed accurately, then you would think that the few Cubans who actually GET Internet access would have been given a hall pass to upload a video to show to the world that all is well in Havana.
So I dug a little more, and found a site in Cuba that contained photos of the same plaza, claiming that the author had just taken the photos there. Here are just a few of the photos:
Besides the presence of a tank (ok, maybe the government did know something was up), it looked like another later afternoon day in Havana.
Of course, we are not so naive to think that what we showed here was indeed proof, and the Miami Herald did report over the weekend that a “melee” had occurred last Friday in the town of Holguín:
A top Cuban hip hop duo that lashes the ruling system with its lyrics reportedly sparked a clash with police last week when they tried to visit two youths jailed since Dec. 25 for playing their music too loudly.
The reports included contradictory information and could not be independently confirmed, but coincided in noting that the group Los Aldeanos was at the heart of a “public disorder” Friday in the eastern city of Holguín.
Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz said he had received reports that about 80 people were detained and five were injured, apparently by rocks thrown at police from a crowd of 1,500 youths that had gathered around the Aldeanos.
So, what is it? What is actually happening in Cuba? Since the press is limited, you have to scour different source to try and find a story. There is still hope from the Free Cuba Facebook crowd that the February 23 anniversary of the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tomayo will spark some demonstrations on the island.
But here is the problem with the current Free Cuba Facebook group: the vast majority of them are Cuban exiles living outside of Cuba with Internet access and Facebook accounts. The Social Media Revolution in Cairo happened because the people who sparked it through social media were also the people who acted in the revolution. With all the antagonistic feelings between Cubans in Cuban and Cubans outside of Cuba, the posting and ranting of FREE CUBA status updates feels like the Boy Who Cried Wolf right now. There is no mainstream coverage of these events, because, quite frankly, NOTHING IS HAPPENING IN CUBA.
The only blog from Cuba we found that even mentioned resistance was the bilingual one called “I Will Not Shut Up, I Will Not Leave” in English. Their latest post calls for a Cuban resistance on February 23 to remember Zapata Tomayo:
The National Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Resistance and Disobedience Front is calling on all activists and members of the Cuban resistance to participate in the “Zapata Lives!” march, which will take place throughout the nation on February 23rd, the one year anniversary of the assassination of political prisoner Orlando Zapata.Brothers, Sisters, Cubans… this 23rd of February will be the most appropriate moment to declare that we are all resistance, and that Boitel and Zapata live on! Paying homage to this Cuban martyr also means paying homage to all the martyrs Cuba has had during all its years of political imprisonment. In this same manner, by doing this we also accept these martyrs as symbols and guides in the struggle for peaceful changes towards democracy in Cuba.Compatriots, on this 23rd of February, notify the neighbors of your municipality or city in Cuba that the flame of resistance is now stronger than ever.Brothers, the name of your movement does not matter, nor does its political affiliation or association. It is the time to unite all of our voices in one demand and to scream wherever we can be heard: Zapata lives on! We are all resistance! The streets belong to the people!
Could something happen in the future? Sure, if the majority of Cubans on the island actually had access to the Internet and social networks. But they don’t. So the FREE CUBA Facebook fans keep posting messages of freedom and action, but no one is listening. Or are they?