By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – The San Isidro Movement (MSI) is everywhere right now in Cuba: on social media, in people’s conversations on the street and even on TV. However, many people still don’t know what it is or continue to be misinformed by the government media.
What is it?
It is just a civil society group in Cuba that emerged spontaneously and continues to be independent, as any civil society group should be. This happened at a time when many independent artists had concerns about political measures and held social protests, but it didn’t establish itself until the government announced decree-law 349 – which is an attempt to restrict artistic freedoms in Cuba – and they came together to fight against it.
What these artists are doing is pretty normal and respected almost anywhere else in the world. However, not in Cuba, where the government is conservative and cautious of its totalitarian system. It considers the control it has over intellectuals and artists as important to keeping society under its control. The government knows culture and art are liberating, and they are afraid of the freedoms that the MSI is demanding.
This is why MSI members, who challenge this control, are treated like criminals and mercenaries. They are defamed in the public eye. However, these artists’ real crime is that they aren’t affiliated to a Communist Party organization and are subjected to the State’s judgement for advocating for a better Cuba.
What led to the current protest and repression?
One of MSI’s members, a rapper, Denis Solis, was arrested, and his eight-month sentence was delivered in just two days, charged with a common crime in Cuba: “contempt for public authority”. This sparked the MSI’s civic reaction.
The Cuban police is used to provoking, insulting and blackmailing criminals and political challengers in the same way. They put them all in the same bag. This is because they are looking for a disproportionate reaction that justifies (even if it’s just in the slightest) charges for the easiest crime there is in Cuba to lock up a human being: contempt for public authority or attacking a public authority.
This is how they get around having to chase down criminals with evidence for trial. They also lock up many opposition members without having to file their cases as “political prisoners”.
In Denis’ case, I don’t know what it was exactly they did to make him get so angry with the police. Nor why the police officer was inside his home recording him without a court order. Likewise, why Denis was being harassed for so long before this, other than for being an anti-establishment artist. It’s clear that this was a fabricated case, like thousands of others.
His colleagues were out in front of the police station, reciting poems in a vigil, as a peaceful protest to demand his release. They were also locked up just for being there. Then, when they (not Solis) were released, they went back to the house of one of MSI’s members, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara. It is located in the San Isidro neighborhood of Old Havana. Some of them began a hunger strike.
How has the government responded?
The government got really scared as news of the strike spread, as well as growing solidarity and support. This gave far greater visibility to the civic movement. The police immediately blocked access to the house. The authorities also convoked a mob to help. They also repressed those who came out to protest and support the MSI at Central Park. Finally, with the baseless excuse of COVID-19, they attacked the house on the night of November 26. They forcefully evicted and detained the artists.
Then, something unprecedented happened on the morning of November 27th. Somebody said let’s go to the Ministry of Culture and many people joined the call. This was completely unheard of, at least in Cuba’s controlled social landscape. Around 300 Cubans gathered together to express their dissent against the government action!
By late night, the government had to sit down and negotiate. However, they are a lot more skilled than artists in the art of getting what they want. They scammed the and twisted the nature of the dialogue, viciously defaming the MSI and supporting artists in national media.
This is one of the Cuban Communist Government’s normal and historic practices. Always labeling anyone who stands up against it as scum, a worm, traitor, mercenary, criminal, drug addict, alcoholic or lumpen. They believe that virtue is something that is only reserved to their followers.
What happened afterwards?
The battle continues on social media and is gaining momentum. MSI insists on demanding Luis Manuel’s release, who has already stopped his hunger strike like other members but continues to be in police custody at a hospital. His home remains locked up, and they continue to demand freedom for Denis Solis.
This first step and the visibility they gained won’t let us fall into the trap of believing that justice and freedom is around the corner in Cuba. However, we shouldn’t let the impact of this moment pass by without taking advantage for this very struggle. The road towards democracy is long and tedious. That’s why it is wise to define what the current situation means, whether it’s a social crisis or a revolution.
According to Wikipedia, “crisis is a temporary period of change in any aspect of organized society but is unstable, subject to evolution.“However, “if these changes are profound, sudden and violent, and especially bring about breakthrough consequences, that go beyond a crisis, they can be called a revolution.”
Clearly, we are in the middle of a crisis, not a revolution. This is why it’s wiser not to aspire for things that are still outside our reach. But instead to outline timely objectives that are linked to what is going on today. To push for a legal and social situation that is more and more favorable for the definitive victory of democratic ideals. In addition to the movement’s particular objectives that this crisis has sparked.
- Everybody’s right to peacefully protest in public and private spaces. Today only pro-government political forces have that right.
- The right to dissent without being crushed by the Political Police or any other repressive body.
- The right to have a voice, that’s to say freedom of speech, without places being cut off, or Internet connections being disconnected to hide what is happening.
- Amendments to the law that regulates police actions and arrests. This in a way that allows them to do their job but also protects civilians’ human rights.
- Amendments to the law that regulates due process, so that it does good by its name. This would stop police abuse and court fraud from being legally protected.
These are demands that most of our people would support, as well as the international community. Just asking for them is proof that these basic safeguards and human rights don’t exist in Cuba.
We must keep moving forward towards the better Cuba we long for, even if it’s just baby steps. A place where every Cuban regardless of any distinction is welcome. There is no doubt that the MSI is an excellent spark to begin awakening Cubans’ civic spirit.