“Never do it drunk”; “I broke up with my boyfriend, I’ll tell you everything”; “My mom responds to my followers.” Until a week ago, Cuban YouTuber Dina Stars posted videos with titles like this on her channel. The themes, aesthetics and language were in no way out of step with the content produced by other young people who use the social network all over the world.
On Sunday (11), Dina posted a direct video of the protests that erupted against the Cuban regime across the island. On Tuesday (13), she was arrested at her home while giving an interview on Spanish television. “The police are here, I have to go,” she said nervously. “They’re going to stop it live,” the host said incredulously. Dina returns and, looking at the camera, says, “I hold the government responsible for anything that may happen to me.”
The video went viral and a campaign was launched inside and outside Cuba to have her released. On Wednesday, Dina was released. Before even taking a shower or talking to her mom, she posted a video on Instagram saying she was fine. On Twitter, he gave more details: “I came home after spending 24 hours in a dungeon as if I was a criminal. Yes, they treated me well, but in any case it is a night that I do not wish on anyone, ”he wrote.
Born from a generation of Cubans who became digital influencers after the popularization of the Internet on the island – especially after the arrival of the 3G network for mobile phones in 2018 – Dina is one example among many who have joined the demonstrations. She was not the only prey. Ariel Falcón, of Twitter @YoUsoMiNasobuco, Liam, of Instagram @soy_liam, and Enrique Alonso, of Talento Urbano The Show, are among those still detained, according to family members and activists.
The protests began in San Antonio de los Baños, near Havana, and quickly spread to other cities. The broadcasts of the acts posted live on Facebook – the “direct”, as Cubans say – many by Internet users unknown on the Internet, helped to attract more audiences.
Speaking of the episode, Cuban regime leader Miguel Díaz Canel blamed YouTubers, calling them “delinquents” who “manipulate people’s emotions through social media.”
Asked by Folha, Cuban Consul General in São Paulo, Pedro Monzón, said that these YouTubers are ultra-right Cubans who live in Miami, financially and politically supported by the United States, who advocate insubordination and the invasion of the island and tell lies aggressively.
“The influencers who pushed Cubans to take to the streets were hunger, misery, lack of medicine, dictatorship. It’s not our fault, we’re just showing reality, ”says Ruhama Fernández, 22, who has a YouTube channel named after her. “No one expected this to happen. [O protesto] it was not planned, it was not one or more influencers who said that there would be such and such a day at such a time.
Resident of Santiago de Cuba, Ruhama is one of the few to live on the island and to explicitly criticize the regime in her videos. “Outside the island, there are many Cubans who are content to face the regime. Here, it’s more complicated. I have been doing this since the start of my channel and I have suffered many inconveniences: repression, persecution of myself, my friends and my family, ”he told Folha.
According to her, what has happened now is that other influencers who have talked about fashion, makeup, travel or comedy were also dissatisfied with the situation and decided to take to the streets or to post. campaigns to support protesters on their channels.
Ruhama said she is afraid of being arrested and that is why she is in hiding. She decided to make her channel “proof of everyday life” by posting a live video every morning saying she is safe.
“If I don’t post a video in the morning, it’s because I’m arrested or missing,” he says. “They go into houses and take people away. See Ariel [Falcón], has thousands of followers on Twitter and still remains in custody.
Monzón, the Cuban consul, said what the country had done was “to seek out, prosecute those who have committed acts of vandalism, looted markets, attacked hospitals and tried to smash electrical transformers for causing blackouts, assaulting the police and breaking the laws ”. “A number of them are suing as offenders. Any country in the world would have reacted like this.
He adds that Cuba is “calm and stable”. “There are no missing persons, the relatives of the defendants know where they are.”
That same Sunday, at 4 p.m., the Internet went down on the island. The regime denies it was on purpose, but activists say it is a practice that has occurred at other times and was premeditated.
According to Miami-based Cuban Norges Rodríguez, founder of the regime-critical tech portal Yucabyte, several international initiatives monitoring the internet around the world have confirmed the general blackout. He claims that after a few hours, access was only blocked from social media, which lasted for more than a day. This partial blocking is generally bypassed by Internet users. “But when the Internet is completely overturned, there is no way out, the country is erased”, explains Rodríguez.
According to him, Internet access in Cuba, after decades where information was controlled by the official media, is a modern version of Perestroika (the reforms that led to the opening of the former Soviet Union) . “It opened people’s eyes. They started to see content they had never seen before, to access world news, to make comparisons.
The report located a few pro-regime YouTubers, some of them living off the island. In a speech similar to that of the other side, opposition activists say they are being funded by the Cuban dictatorship to confuse public opinion. The consul, however, says what they are doing is dismantling the fake news being broadcast on Cuba.
According to Brazilian David Nemer, a professor at the University of Virginia who studies the socio-cultural aspects of internet use in Cuba, there are different groups among those who used social media to protest last week. One of them uses the hashtag #SOSCUBA, but does not identify with those asking for #IntervencionHumanitariaparaCuba (humanitarian intervention, interpreted as US interference in the country).
“The question is much more complex than asking for the fall of the government. They are asking for food, vaccines, more freedom, but one of the demands they make the most is the end of the American economic blockade, because it is linked to the absence of all of these.
According to him, the Whatsapp and Facebook groups are used to collect legitimate complaints from Cubans, but also to disseminate false news that “leave the nerves on edge”.
He claims that the existence of digital influencers is new, even for Cuban authorities, who do not know how to deal with them. “This is Cuba’s first digital generation. They are used to the way of communicating on the internet, of expressing opinions as they wish, and the government does not know how to handle criticism, it sees a danger.
According to him, the blocking of the internet on the island can sometimes even hinder the extension of a demonstration, but does not prevent future mobilizations. “Now that the door has opened, they have already seen that they have the possibility to organize themselves. I think the protests will become something more present in the lives of Cubans, and the government knows it. “