Cuba – Expulsion of a collective: artists call for dialogue

Cuban artists ask to be received at the Ministry of Culture after the violent expulsion of the San Isidro collective.

Demonstration in support of the San Isidro movement in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana, November 27, 2020.


Some 200 Cuban artists had gathered Friday, for about ten hours, in front of the Ministry of Culture, calling for more freedom of expression after the violent expulsion of the artist collective San Isidro who demanded the release of a singer rap prisoner.

This mobilization is exceptional in this country of communist government where the right to demonstrate is granted only very sporadically. It comes after the violent expulsion, the night before, of 14 young Cubans, members or sympathizers of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists, academics and journalists. They had been holed up for 10 days in their premises in the historic center of Havana and some of them said they were on hunger strike.

A delegation of 30 representatives of the demonstrators were to be received on Friday evening by Deputy Minister Fernando Rojas, after having been patient since midday in front of the headquarters of the ministry. They planned to hand him several demands, approved by the artists by show of hands. Among their demands: freedom of creation and expression, the right to disagree and the end of repression and harassment against artists.

A few dozen meters away, a large number of State Security agents and uniformed police officers were stationed, an AFP journalist noted.

“Need for freedom”

“In a way, we don’t have a lot of confidence, but on the other hand, we feel that it is our obligation. They are civil servants from this country and it has become a political situation, ”one of the demonstrators, Michel Matos, told AFP. “We need freedom of thought and freedom of expression, that’s what unites us all here,” said visual artist Renier Leyva, 37.

On Friday evening, actor and director Jorge Perrugoria, known for his role in “Strawberry and Chocolate” (1993), and Fernando Pérez, considered the best Cuban director today, joined the protesters. “This is the time for dialogue and I believe that you young people must be listened to,” said Jorge Perrugoria, 55. “We are here to tell the Ministry of Culture to welcome you, that this will be the start of a new language,” said Fernando Pérez, 76 years old.

Until then unknown to the general public, the San Isidro Movement has gained notoriety, including beyond borders, thanks to its action widely disseminated online. Behind its coup, a double phenomenon: the mobile internet, which arrived at the end of 2018, which has revolutionized the daily life of Cubans and allowed critical voices to be heard better, via social networks. This episode also occurs after months of tension between independent artists and the government around Legislative Decree 349, which requires them to register with an official institution.

“Fatigue” of artists

The collective wanted to denounce the imprisonment of one of their members, rapper Denis Solis, arrested on November 9 and sentenced to eight months in prison for “insulting” authority. To justify their intervention, the authorities alleged a danger of the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic, because a Cuban journalist and writer, Carlos Manuel Alvarez, collaborator of the Washington Post and the New York Times, allegedly violated health protocols by reporting joining the members of the collective.

At the time of this intervention, many Cubans denounced the fact that access to social networks like Facebook or Instagram was suddenly blocked. “What happened with the San Isidro Movement is a very concrete illustration” of the lack of freedom of expression, according to Renier Leyva.

Tania Bruguera, a popular protest artist, spoke of “fatigue” among artists due to “bad politics where repression is the solution to all problems while we are here to seek an answer”.

After their arrest, the 14 members of San Isidro were subjected to PCR tests and ordered to return home, the movement’s premises having been closed by the authorities, according to the activists. Friday evening, the leader of the movement, who had refused to obey, remained detained: Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, 32 years old. The demonstrators demand to know where he is, a fair trial for Denis Solis, an “institutional transparency” of the Ministry of Culture and a public debate around Decree 349.

“The international community demands that the regime respect human rights in Cuba,” US Under Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere tweeted Friday, Michael Kozak. In a statement, Amnesty International called for Alcantara’s release, calling him a “prisoner of conscience”.


Posted today at 01:13

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