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Cuba's Internet Blackout Is The Country's Latest Attempt To Quiet Protests

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After Sunday's massive protests in Cuba, the government there employed a common authoritarian tactic. It blocked the internet.

LUISA YANEZ: There are no videos. There are no phone calls. There's no sharing of social media. Nothing like that exists in Cuba right now because the government has closed that down.

CORNISH: Luisa Yanez has been writing about the protests for the Miami Herald. She says the internet blackout has made it hard for people on and off the island to know what's happening in the aftermath of the protest. And though internet access has been trickling back, the government is cracking down in other ways.

YANEZ: We're hearing from special sources that there is still a mood of revolt on the island, that there are police officers on every street corner, that some people have been - police have shown up to - at their homes and have taken them away for taking part in the demonstrations on Sunday. It's a very delicate mood in Cuba right now. Anybody who dares to go out in the streets will be likely grabbed and taken into custody.

CORNISH: Beyond squelching dissent, I ask Yanez how the government has been responding to the demonstrators' grievances.

YANEZ: Well yesterday, they said that they would be allowing travelers to the island to bring goods - medicine, clothing, anything for their relatives or other people and - without charging them customs duty. And this is sort of a unique situation where a government is kind of saying, people from the outside, we are letting you bring stuff in. We're not going to do anything. We're just going to let you bring the goods to us. And that falls on Miami Cubans who have relatives on the island who are suffering. So they will spend hundreds, thousands of dollars to travel to Cuba with goods to deliver to them or pay somebody to take the goods down.

CORNISH: The Miami Herald has also talked about the fact that Cuba, as you say in your headline, rolled out 90-year-old Raul Castro. What do you think was the symbolism that was attempted here and why do you think that, in this moment, this is ineffective?

YANEZ: This was harking back to the old days of the revolution, and the only one left is Raul. He retired earlier this year. But when the question of defending the revolution, as they say, suddenly erupted on Sunday, they called on him to be a face of, this is what we did 60 years ago. We're not going to have this taken from us. Here's Raul, who is 90 years old at this point. And they are - Cuba is dealing with a younger generation that is not buying into this idea of a revolution that happened 62 years ago. So Raul was there to remind them. And the president called out for old revolutionaries and communists to come out to the streets and stop this uprising.

CORNISH: Given all you've told us - the new attempts at putting down dissent and the kind of new generation at play - are these strategies from Cuba, from the government, going to be enough to keep the status quo going? Meaning in this moment, do these protests feel different to you?

YANEZ: They do, largely because of the way that the Cuban people have been able to sort of take to the streets, which is unheard of. That doesn't happen in Cuba. The faces are younger. And I think the Cubans here, which are also the demonstrators in Miami, too, are also younger. And they are trying to get the attention, international attention. They're trying to get President Biden's attention. They're trying to get him to come to Miami. They're trying to get him to do something about Cuba. And Cuba's a hard nut to crack. And this idea that a government can shut down the internet communications of 11 million people is hard to comprehend, but it's a sign of how repressive that government is.

CORNISH: Well, Luisa Yanez, thank you so much for speaking with us.

YANEZ: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECONDITE'S "LEVO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.