which was first scheduled for November 20, 2021, and later changed for the 15th.
After the authorities denied authorization to hold a protest, social media users (as the movement is particularly articulated there), the government and the press have all set their sights on Archipielago; some in their defence and others against them.
Faced with the appearance of actors who dissent against government rule, it’s normal for the State to use slander campaigns, demonizing citizen-led organizations and their members. Here on el toque, we will dig into Archipelago’s essence, characteristics and objectives, so as to contribute to the social debate that involves them.
How was it born?
Archipielago was born after what happened on July 11th. The proposal came from playwright and activist Yunior García Aguilera and became a political project when he was talking with several friends and they agreed to give him a real platform,” Leonard Fernandez Otaño, one of the group’s admins, says.
These friends had collaborated together on civic actions to help people who had been affected in the wake of the tornado that swept through Havana in January 2019. Then, some of them also sat outside the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020, expressing their disapproval of police violence and harassment of Cuban artists.
They also gathered together outside the old Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) on July 11, 2021, to demand respect and their rights, Yunior Garcia Aguilera said in an interview with journalist Monica Baro.
The heart of their movement defends the precept that Cuba is an archipelago, a series of islands and isles and not just one monolithic island. Leonardo Fernandez describes the group as a plural project that has Cuba and democracy as its objectives: “It is a platform that seeks the release of political prisoners, the solution to our differences via democratic and peaceful means, with all of the risks that this might entail for those of who belong to it.”
“Ever since it was founded, the only opinion we have no room for here at Archipielago is the use of violence, even if it’s only in speech; every expression of violence has been banned,” he assures.
On August 9, 2021, the platform went live on social media, with a Facebook group:
- PlataformaArchipiélago (personal blog), with 7185 followers.
- Archipiélago (private group), with over 28,000 members.
- ArchipiélagoCu, with 7966 followers.
It stands out for its broad political scope; including people who identify as the Left, center-Left or Right.
“Archipielago aspires to serve as a platform to encourage a debate and dialogue between Cubans, to reach a consensus. It is supposed to be a channel for us to seek a civic-led response to the crisis, without violence and in total sovereignty,” the description on its official Telegram chat reads.
The idea of Ágora being a space for debate came later. It is a Telegram chat for citizens to engage with each other and form a part of Archipelago’s practical initiatives. We want to listen to Cuban citizens, propose and exchange ideas.
What is Archipielago and what is it not?
It isn’t a political party.
It doesn’t identify with the Right, Center or Left.
It’s a citizen-led platform that aims to bring together civil society and reach a basic level of understanding to move towards a democratic transition in Cuba; for a better Cuba, Leonardo Fernandez Otaño explains.
“It’s a plural space where the existence of different ideas is key, where we can learn to reach agreements, at least on the matters that unite us within this diversity, but respecting our differences, the chance that another person has their part of the truth and we can create a collective truth, let’s say, without voiding the differences that define us,” Yunior Garcia says.
What are Archipelago’s priorities after emerging?
- Struggling on all fronts for the release of those who were arrested on July 11th.
- Holding the first anti-government protest with authorization from the corresponding bodies. A peaceful protest with all legal safeguards, during which there is no violence or repression. While Archipielago has called for this protest, the hope is that it is a civic protest and every member of civil society, in their diversity and of every political stripe, is invited to attend.
- To call for a plebiscite and that all legal safeguards are respected in the process. Taking the differences that exist between us Cubans to the ballot box, and that sovereign will decide what kind of country it wants to build.
What is its mission?
According to engineer and activist David Martínez, the group aspires for “the people, citizens to become empowered and take what we’re doing as an example. So, that they can articulate the civic initiatives they want, with courage, decency, civic spirit, always with civic spirit.”
“It seeks a Cuban society that is able to reach agreements and channels to banish authoritarianism in the country (understanding the importance of coming together if we want this) and to pave the way for democracy. It seeks to bring civil society together.”
“Democracy is the mission, the right to have rights,” Leonardo Fernandez adds.
What is Archipelago’s structure?
The Facebook group has over 28,000 members. It has a central group made up of the people who talked about and came up with the idea for the platform in the beginning, and there are several admins in the country’s provinces where the initiative has gained momentum.
What has been done up until now?
In less than three months, the main actions have been geared towards creating a state of opinion and support for political prisoners, especially via debates on Agora, its Telegram channel.
In September, the group launched an appeal to hold peaceful anti-violence protests in Cuba. The march was initially scheduled to take place on November 20, 2021.
It was then brought forward by five days after the Government announced that it would be carrying out military exercises on this day. Authorization request letters were sent in: Holguin, Santa Clara, Havana (province) and Old Havana (municipality), Nuevitas, Guantanamo, Cienfuegos, Las Tunas, Camagüey and Pinar del Rio.
The letters requested authorization from the corresponding government bodies, based on the right for assembly, demonstration and association for legal and peaceful ends, recognized by the State “as long as they are exercised respecting public order and in compliance with what is established by the Law” in Article 56 of the 2019 Constitution.
The Government’s negative response was made public on October 12, 2021. The document read: “while a constitutional right is being invoked, it can’t be exercised against other rights, guarantees and key postulates in the Constitution, which determines the illegal nature of the protest.”
Seven days after Archipielago received the official response, Miryorly Garcia Prieto, a group member, presented an administrative complaint against the mayor of Old Havana, Alexis Acosta Silva, and the Council he leads.
After the authorities denied this authorization, the official press defamed Yunior Garcia, who created the proposal, and other members have said that they have been interrogated alongside their families.
Two members and people behind Archipielago have been laid off from their jobs, up until now: David Martinez Espinosa (who was a professor at the Cienfuegos’ University of Medical School) and Holguin doctor Manuel Guerra (who was removed from the ward where he worked).
What are the objectives of the peaceful protest?
The protest is a call “against violence, to demand that every Cuban’s rights are respected, for the release of political prisoners and for the solution to our differences via democratic and peaceful channels,” according to a statement made by its organizers. These are its objectives:
- freedom for political prisoners, especially those detained on July 11th.
- stand firm against violence.
- for every Cuban’s rights to be respected.
- find a solution to our problems via democratic and peaceful channels.
Is it funded by foreign organizations?
Archipielago is an independent platform and its members have stated that they don’t receive any funding. “Everything we do with Archipielago comes from our own wages; especially our Internet expenses, as well as other things. As a platform, we don’t receive a single cent from anyone. One of Archipelago’s basic rules is that they cannot receive funding from anybody, whether it’s a government or foreign entity,” Leonardo Fernandez explains.
Does it wish to overthrow the Cuban Government?
“More than overthrowing the Cuban government, Archipielago wants a new social consensus that can be taken to a popular vote, that is based on a separation of powers and Rule of Law. It also seeks the release of political prisoners and for the country to be rebuilt,” Leonardo Fernandez explains.