Cuba’s Mannequin Challenge

The “mannequin challenge” arrived in Cuba last December. The first images posted from the Island showing this fad —consisting of filming pictures with static people— simulated a brawl amongst teenagers dressed in school uniforms, in a classroom. This scene, which could be regarded as another episode of this new viral phenomenon, has an unusual transcendence in the case of Cuba.

The image is very symbolic, considering that violence —promoted by the regime through its modus operandi— is a prevalent condition in the Cuban society. This is not the result of chance, but a direct consequence of a government’s feature that —along with dual morality and corruption— has permeated every stratum of society. A review of the last days of 2016 and the first days of 2017 provides us with plenty of evidence in this regard.

On January 4th, 2017, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) presented a detailed report in Madrid on the situation of human rights in Cuba. This report denounces a record number of 9351 arbitrary arrests last the year, amounting to over one thousand more detentions compared to 2015. Of this total, 58% were executed against women, which points out to a clear case of genre violence.

The report reveals a tendency to practice these detentions in massive raids. This is the case of the wave of arrests and beatings against those who refused to obey the mourning imposed after the death of dictator Fidel Castro. Amongst other prohibitions, Cubans could not drink alcoholic beverages or listen to music. So, to ensure compliance with this, the neighbourhoods were incessantly patrolled, house by house, by brigades of unscrupulous Castroist vigilantes created for this purpose.

During the military parade on January 2nd 2017, the Cuban elite army forces marched shouting out loud their desire to “make a lead hat” for Barack Obama, that is to burst his head with bullets

An ill-famed example of someone arrested for not obeying the imposed mourning is the graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto”. The dictatorship could not forgive the two words he wrote on the façade of the hotel Habana Libre: “he’s gone”, referring to Castro’s death.

To reinforce this sense of tragicomedy, the National Assembly —the sham Cuban parliament— passed a law forbidding the personality cult of the deceased despot, but creating at the same time an institute to study and spread his thinking.

The closing act of all this macabre paraphernalia came with the military parade on January 2nd, when elite army forces marched shouting out loud their desire to “make a lead hat” for Barack Obama, that is to burst his head with bullets. These war chants, rather than representing a real danger to Cuba’s northern neighbour, seemed to be aimed at the Cuban people, in a gross attempt to fuel the old “anti-imperialist” spirit, somewhat diluted in the waters of the so-called “thaw” between the two countries.

As in the mannequin challenge of the students mentioned above, the Castro dictatorship is playing a fake brawl just to the gallery. The simulation and generation of conflicts, whether imaginary or not, is a terrain where the Cuban regime has always run free. Castroism seeks to exacerbate the international public opinion by resurrecting its conflict with the USA and resuming its worn-out speech about being a besieged place, which has been its sui generis justification for repressing human rights.

After the tyrant’s death, an act was finished, but not the whole tragedy. To respond to the immobility of the mannequin challenge that may represent the Cuban society, Cuban people must break the established parameters, and think and act outside the imposed frameworks, far beyond virtual reality. History teaches us that true change is driven by real human beings, by flesh and blood people, when they engage in concrete and authentic campaigns.

Who will lower the curtains?



Omar López Montenegro is Human Rights Manager at the Cuban American National Foundation

Perth Herald Tribune joined the campaign “My Weekly Denunciation Of the Castro’s Dictatorship”, launched by the UNPACU and the Forum for a United America to raise awareness of the situation of the Cuban people worldwide.