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A Popular YouTuber Is Detained By Cuban Police On Live TV In A Roundup Of Critics

Cubalex, a U.S.-based organization of human rights lawyers, estimates about 148 anti-government protesters have been arrested, detained or disappeared since Sunday.
Eliana Aponte
Cubalex, a U.S.-based organization of human rights lawyers, estimates about 148 anti-government protesters have been arrested, detained or disappeared since Sunday.

A popular Cuban YouTuber was detained by government security forces on live television Tuesday morning as she was discussing the sweeping arrests of activists, protesters and journalists.

Dina Stars was speaking live on Todo Es Mentira, a Spanish television news show, when she said state security forces were knocking on her door and demanding she go with them to a Havana police station.

"I hold the government responsible for anything that may happen to me," the 25-year-old told the program's host before abruptly leaving the interview.

She added: "I have to go. They told me to accompany them."

Stars was at Sunday's anti-government marches in Havana and had uploaded videos of herself, in which she criticized the nation's leaders.

About 148 people have been arrested, detained or disappeared since Sunday

Stars is one of about 148 people who have been detained or disappeared, including seven journalists, since a wave of anti-government protests erupted across dozens of Cuban cities on Sunday, according to Cubalex, a U.S.-based organization of human rights lawyers that is tracking the roundups with the help of journalists and social media posts.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 12 people have been released from police custody, the group says.

"They don't want anyone to tell the world what is happening. They've cut off the internet," Cubalex wrote in a tweet Tuesday afternoon.

A majority of the people who have been picked up by police were reportedly taken during the groundswell of protests over the weekend, while others, including Stars, were later seized from their homes.

"It is really hard to know and verify what is happening now because of the internet blackouts," Louise Tillotson, a researcher for Amnesty International in the Caribbean told NPR.

There is no information coming from official channels, Tillotson said, adding that "we don't know if these people will be charged, what they will be charged with, or if they will be let go."

"We don't even know where they are so it's hard to get specific information."

Tillotson accused the government, led by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, of "resorting to machinery of control." Amnesty International has been tracking instances in which the Cuban state "uses criminal law to essentially lock up people who have alternative view points ... as a way of controlling dissent" which is inconsistent with international standards, she said.

Spanish leaders call for journalist's release

On Tuesday Spain's foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, demandedthe immediate release of Camila Acosta, a Cuban journalist who reports for ABC, a Spanish newspaper.

Acosta had been covering the mass protests that drew fed-up Cubans into the streets demanding a variety of reforms, an end to ongoing power blackouts, and better access to food and medicine that has become increasingly scarce under devastating sanctions from the U.S. and the effects of the global pandemic. Acosta was reportedly taken from her home in Havana early Monday.

"Spain defends the right to demonstrate freely and peacefully and asks the Cuban authorities to respect it. We unconditionally defend human rights," Albares said on Twitter after the Spanish paper, which had hired Acosta, said she would be charged with crimes against state security, Reuters reported.

Protesters were driven by economic and health struggles

Cubans are revolting in astonishing numbers not seen since the 1990s, NPR's Carrie Kahn reports. And the protests that spontaneously spilled onto the streets for hours on Sunday have been simmering for several months. People who have been subject to a nationwide clamp down for decades, are demanding more freedom as well as solutions to the economic turmoil that have worsened under Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Frustrated Cubans who are also in the midst of a record spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in recent weeks, are calling on the government to provide more access to vaccines.

In response to the protests, Díaz-Canel interrupted state TV on Monday, ignoring the protesters' demands and taking on a defiant tone. He said the images of vast crowds in the streets were not real, alleging they were paid demonstrators.

On Tuesday, Díaz-Canel seemed to alter his position and offered a slightly more conciliatory tone. Although he railed against the protests, Díaz-Canel also addressed the legitimate concerns aired in Sunday's demonstrations, saying he understands the people's frustrations. But he blamed the U.S.and a recent spate of onerous sanctions implemented under former President Donald Trump, as the cause of the country's economic struggles.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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