In this district in the south of the capital, the protest broke out on July 12, the day after an unprecedented mobilization in some fifty cities on the island where thousands of Cubans, exasperated by the shortages, took to the streets in cries of “Freedom and “We are hungry”.

Hundreds of residents of La Güinera, one of the poorest in Havana, then tried to access the police station. Militants of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC, single party) had prevented them, supported by the anti-riot forces deployed en masse. The protesters then responded by throwing stones, bottles and sticks. A total of 160 protesters were arrested.

Wilbert Aguilar, a 49-year-old self-employed worker, wants to forget that disastrous day in December when he learned of the conviction of his 22-year-old son Wagniel.

“When I told my wife that our son had been sentenced to 23 years in prison, my home collapsed,” he says. “I had to take care of the washing, the dishes, the cooking, because my wife lost her mind”. The forties had to take care of his daughter-in-law and his two granddaughters.

Her neighbor, Elizabet Leon Martinez, 51, was working as a manicurist when three of her five sons were jailed. “I can’t do anything anymore, I’m going crazy, I don’t have a life anymore, I don’t have anything anymore. I take care of my grandchildren because I can’t work”, she says without letting go her phone for a moment in case she gets a call from the prison.

For a year, the government has been trying to improve living conditions in La Güinera. Potholes have been filled, health centers reopened and several families have been promised a new house under a program implemented by the authorities in some 60 districts of the capital of 2.1 millions of inhabitants.

– “Their voice” –

The mobilization of July 2021, unprecedented in Cuba since 1959, left one dead, killed by the police in this same district of La Güinera. Across the country, hundreds of people were injured and more than 1,300 arrested, according to a count by the human rights NGO Cubalex.

Among them, 790 are being prosecuted and 488 have already been sentenced to terms of up to 25 years in prison. After appealing, Wagniel saw his reduced to 12 years in prison.

Jorge Gil, a 72-year-old retiree and CCP representative in La Güinera, acknowledges that the protests erupted after years of authorities abandoning the neighborhood.

“Everything has deteriorated,” says the septuagenarian who himself lives in temporary accommodation since the reconstruction of his house, planned as part of a government program, was suspended for lack of equipment.

Opposite, Isabel Hernandez, 44, lives in a newly renovated house. “I’m very happy,” she says, reporting mixed feelings as one of her sons is imprisoned for protesting.

For some residents, July 12 represented another victory for the Cuban revolution. “We are more than grateful for all the changes our neighborhood has experienced,” said Ileana Macias, a local official, during a meeting with President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

But Wilbert Aguilar notes a “widespread sadness”. According to him, the demonstrators were not “counter-revolutionaries”. “They had no weapons, their only weapon was their voice,” he pleads.

Even Jorge Gil, who defends the socialist system, recognizes that sadness prevails in the neighborhood.

“I hope the problem will be solved quickly and most of these young people will be released from prison because at the end of the day, they are only young people and they must be able to redeem themselves,” he says.