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Cuba Cracks Down on Protest Organizers Ahead of Planned March

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Neighbors look at Cuban flags draped over the windows of opposition activist Yunior Garcia Aguilera's home, in an attempt to stop him from communicating with the outside in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 14, 2021.

Cuban police cracked down on protest organizers Monday and took to the streets in large numbers to prevent a banned demonstration from taking place.

The Cuban government had prohibited the "Civic March for Change" and warned the opposition that it would not tolerate what it called "counterrevolutionary" and "terrorist" acts. The government said it believed the protest was part of a U.S. interventionist plan, a charge U.S. officials denied.

Ahead of the planned march Monday, swarms of police in plain clothes encircled the homes of activists and independent journalists to prevent them from leaving.

Journalists said the government was trying to stop the protest by preventing demonstration leaders and members of the press from going outside.

Agence France-Presse reported that police arrested key dissidents hours before the planned rally, including opposition figure Manuel Cuesta Morua; Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White rights movement; and Soler's husband, Angel Moya.

AFP also reported that armed police in uniform gathered on nearly every corner while plainclothes police patrolled the city's parks and squares.

On Sunday, Cuban officials surrounded the home of Yunior Garcia Aguilera, a leader of Archipiélago, the group that planned Monday's march.

Garcia was set to do a solo walk Sunday afternoon, and he planned on carrying a single white rose in support of people unable to participate Monday. But he could not execute his plan because his residence was surrounded by government agents.

Supporters of Cuba's opposition staged protests Sunday and Monday around the world, including in Miami, Florida, home to a large Cuban population.

During a news conference in Miami on Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, "We should all, as free people, want to see the day when we have a free Cuba."

Other protests took place in Colombia, Chile, Canada and Spain.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez had labeled Monday's planned protest as a "destabilizing operation designed in Washington."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday in a statement, "We call on the Cuban government to respect Cubans' rights, by allowing them to peacefully assemble and use their voices without fear of government reprisal or violence, and by keeping Internet and telecommunication lines open for the free exchange of information."

In July, Cuban police and military units were dispatched to crack down on a peaceful opposition demonstration. Thousands were arrested. Many are still facing charges.

Monday's planned march came on the same day that Cuban officials marked the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the return of in-person classes at primary schools.

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

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