On February 24, 2019, the Cuban government held a Constitutional referendum that included reforms such as the recognition of private property and the presumption of innocence in Cuban courts. However, the crackdown on civil society and dissenters ahead of the referendum proved that citizens really had “no voice” in the “fraud” democratic process, said Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro. In the months before the referendum, the government took to social media with its #YoVotoSi (#IVoteYes) campaign and utilized its monopoly over Cuban media to flood the information space with its message.
Civil society members who expressed a dissenting message, promoting #YoVotoNo (#IVoteNo), faced grave consequences. On February 11, 2019, security forces raided fourteen homes belonging to members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a leader of the #YoVotoNo campaign. Security forces took laptops and cellphones, and arrested dozens of UNPACU members. In protest, 123 UNPACU members observed a hunger strike in the days before the referendum. As of February 26, 2019, police continue to “permanently surround” the homes and detain anyone who attempts to leave. We stand in solidarity with those detained and punished for exercising their right to freedom of expression and condemn the Cuban government for co-opting democratic processes to strengthen its authoritarian regime.