HAVANA (Reuters) - A raft of Cuban dissidents, artists and journalists said on Tuesday that state security agents had staked out their homes to prevent them from attending planned protests over the killing by police of a young Black man.
At least 40 dissident activists were also detained by police, according to exiled rights group Cubalex, with some later released.
Those included performance artist Tania Bruguera in Havana and the leader of Cuba’s most active opposition group, Jose Daniel Ferrer, who had been under house arrest in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.
Cuba does not usually comment on the detention of dissidents, which would give them more publicity. The government did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
No would-be protesters appeared able to make it to the site of what was supposed to be the main demonstration in Havana which was full of security forces. Some said state telecoms monopoly ETECSA had cut their mobile internet service overnight.
Protests against the state are rare in a country where public spaces are tightly controlled and Communist authorities are quick to crack down on dissent.
The calls for protests on Tuesday were triggered by news last week that police had shot and killed a 27-year-old unarmed Black man, Hansel Hernandez.
A woman who identified herself as his aunt denounced the killing on social media and called for justice, grabbing attention amid protests against police violence and racism in the United States.
For three days, authorities did not comment. But on Saturday, Cuba’s Interior Ministry issued a statement saying police had been chasing Hernandez, who had done jail time previously for other crimes.
Hernandez, who had committed an act of vandalism, started throwing stones at police as they chased him and hit one officer in the shoulder, throwing him to the ground, the statement said.
The officer shot Hernandez after firing off two warning shots, the statement said, adding that he acted in self defense and without the intent of killing him.
The Interior Ministry said it lamented his death.
Critics have denounced the government for not holding police to account by launching an investigation, especially given how quick officials have been to condemn U.S. police brutality, with extensive coverage in state media of the Black Lives Matter protests.
They also accuse the government more broadly of allowing police brutality and failing to adequately address racism in Cuba.
Cuba’s government prides itself on having improved the lives of Black Cubans by officially eliminating racial segregation after its 1959 revolution and providing universal access to education and healthcare.
But anti-racism activists say that by acting as if the issue of racism were resolved and suppressing debate over it, the government has prevented the steps needed to fully eradicate it.
Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Tom Brown