Assault on Artists Triggers Surprise Protest in Havana

The hunger strike by members of the San Isidro Movement continues

By Irina Echarry

Out in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana, Cuba on Friday November 27.
Photo: Facebook/Ahmel Echevarría / 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – On the night of November 26, Cuba’s monopoly telecommunications company ETECSA blocked access to various social networks. With communications severed, State Security violently broke into the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement in Old Havana.

They came disguised as health personnel, under the pretext of Covid 19 and the possible spread of the epidemic. They violently removed the fourteen people who were inside and ransacked the house, after kicking down the door.

The alleged doctors took the phones away from the artists and transferred them to different police stations. Some of the “health officials” removed their protective gowns to reveal their military uniforms. Later, some of the artists were taken to their homes.

Combating poetry with brutality

The authorities wanted to violently end a protest action that began with poetry, demanding a civic right.

It didn’t go well. They momentarily dispersed the artists and those who accompanied them, but the attack had consequences. After finding out what had happened, the following day a tide of artists gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture.

The all-day sit-in, which grew by the hour, demanded the presence of the minister. Among other things, they wanted to ask what the ministry that supposedly represents them will do to defend freedom of creation and expression.

They were summoned through social networks as soon as these were restored. Little by little young artists and some more recognizable ones joined the protest. The latter included filmmaker Fernando Perez, actors Jorge Perugorria, Mario Guerra and Nestor Jimenez, playwright Carlos Celdran plus musicians, rappers and singers such as La Diosa and Leoni Torres. There is no single thought among them, but they coincide in rejecting state violence and respecting dissent.

Artist Tania Bruguera was one of the over 150 persons present from different spheres of art, different generations. They gathered there and waited the entire day and into the late night. Finally, a group of thirty was received by the vice minister. “I am not a spokesperson,” said Bruguera, “but I’ve been fighting for this for decades. It’s very exciting to see a generation that has said ‘Enough!’, tired of not being represented by the ministry.”

Young Cuban artists want a future

Young Cuban artists are concerned about the times and the future. The San Isidro Movement has awakened a wave of solidarity and has put the cultural world on alert. Today it is them, tomorrow the State could corner another group, as has happened so many times. They’re tired of asking for dialogue and for the government to respond with hate rallies, mobile data blackouts, stigmatization and smear campaigns.

The artists demand guarantees and full compliance with their right to freedom of expression, free creation and dissent.

Before entering into a dialogue, the demands were:

Review the case of jailed rapper Denis Solís and assure him due judicial process. Allow artist Luis Manuel Otero, still on a hunger strike, to return to his home. The cessation of harassment, repression, censorship, discrediting, and defamation by the authorities and official media towards the Cuban artistic and intellectual community and towards all citizens who disagree with state policies. Recognition and respect for independent thought. They also made it clear that they want an end to the police violence, no more political hatred. They propose letting love and poetry be what unite people.

After waiting for hours, the agreements reached in this first meeting were the following:

A channel of dialogue will be opened with institutions and artists. They promised to take an urgent interest in the situation of Denis Solís and Luis Manuel Otero. A multiple work agenda will be created with all the artists. They also promised a truce with independent artistic spaces, so the artists there won’t be harassed. A meeting with the minister will supposedly take place next week.

The sit-in in front of the Ministry of Culture was a show of civility. It demonstrated that demanding rights is possible and that a handful isn’t the same as hundreds. Everything went quite calmly, despite the tension caused by the heavy police presence in the surroundings, the blackout they suffered and the fact that at one point some of the artists were pepper-sprayed.

There were songs, applause, and a lot of emotion. Officials promised that everyone could return home without harassment. That there wouldn’t be retaliation for being there, for having defied State Security.

It remains to be seen how events unfold. The artists are determined. They demand their rights without wavering, but State Security and government institutions don’t give in so fast. When they are pressured, they have no choice but to attend to the demands of the moment. However, in the end, everything can become diluted.

The most recent event of this kind was when a group of animal protectors stood in front of Zoonosis dog pound with posters. It was the same dynamic: trying to “dialogue”, listening to promises. The authorities defused the moment, bought time, and then broke their promises. The animal protection law being sought has gone nowhere.

Hopefully, the same won’t happen with the artists. However, it’s difficult to expect the government to change its strategy of many years from one minute to the next.

After waiting for hours, the agreements reached in this first meeting were the following:

While all this was happening, some of the San Isidro Movement members, those who started the protest, remain on a hunger strike. They are the ones who have sacrificed their bodies and their reputations. They continue with police surveillance at their homes, blocked internet, and some with a blocked telephone line.

Maykel Castillo and Luis Manuel Otero continue on their hunger strike. Luis Manuel was missing all day, until it was learned that he was forcibly admitted to the Fajardo Hospital, after spending many hours in a patrol car. He doesn’t want medical intervention. He wants freedom for rapper Denis Solis, who was sentenced to eight months in jail without due process. Today it’s Solis, tomorrow it could be anyone.

After an exciting night in Vedado, the San Isidro Movement is still waiting for answers. A wait that could end in disaster because there are lives at stake.


One thought on “Assault on Artists Triggers Surprise Protest in Havana

  • November 29, 2020 at 2:32 am
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    Step by step Cubans are walking against the dictatorship not matter how many TRASNOCHADOS (Dated) dreaming hater of the USA are there ). Cuba will be democratic one day

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