This peaceful mobilization of more than ten hours, embellished with readings of poems and singing of the Cuban hymn, is exceptional in this country of communist government where the right to demonstrate is only granted 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.
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At around 9:00 p.m. (02:00 GMT Saturday), a delegation of 30 representatives of the demonstrators were received by Deputy Minister Fernando Rojas, after having waited since midday in front of the headquarters of the ministry. At 11:30 p.m., the meeting was still in progress.
Among their demands, approved by the artists by show of hands: the freedom of creation and expression, the right to disagree and the end of repression and harassment against artists.
A few tens of meters away, a large number of State Security agents and uniformed police officers were stationed, noted an AFP journalist.
– “Need freedom” –
“In a way, we don’t have much confidence, but on the other hand, we feel that it is our obligation. They are officials of 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 speech, that’s what unites us all here“, confided the visual artist Renier Leyva, 37 years old.
Early 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“Fernando Pérez, 76, said.
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” 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 “outrage“to 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 Insagram was suddenly blocked.
“What happened with the San Isidro Movement is a very concrete illustration“the lack of freedom of expression, according to Renier Leyva.
Tania Bruguera, a popular protest artist, shared a “fatigue“among artists because of”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.
Protesters demand to know where he is, a fair trial for Denis Solis, a “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 CubaUS Under Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Michael Kozak, tweeted Friday.
In a statement, Amnesty International called for Alcantara’s release, calling him “prisoner of conscience“.
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