CubaBrief: Castro regime escalates violent repression against the San Isidro Movement while activists call to protest in public parks across Cuba

Over the weekend events at the San Isidro Movement’s headquarters escalated with acts of violence perpetrated by agents of the dictatorship against the nonviolent protesters.

Early Sunday morning, November 22, 2020 at 12:08am Cuban independent journalist Iliana Hernández posted over Twitter that “they attack San Isidro Movement headquarters by state security repressors, who gave the criminal time break down the door (approximately 10 minutes), and after a while the patrol appeared,” and she added that Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara had been hit. Photos and video of the attack appeared on social media a few minutes later. Thankfully Spanish speaking media reported on the attack and is reaching an international audience.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara following the attack early Sunday morning

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara following the attack early Sunday morning

The San Isidro Movement called for a protest in Cuba’s parks on Sunday, November 22, 2020. Cuban state security began carrying out preemptive arrests of activists and independent journalists. One independent journalist reported being taken by police to a “dark road” 15 miles outside of Havana where he was released. The secret police also began to organize their paramilitary groups to violently target those that were able to evade the security cordon and reach the park.

The CubaBrief published on Friday, November 20, 2020 outlined the events leading from cultural events including, a “Poetic Whisper” to a sit-in following the sentencing of Denis Solís up to a hunger and thirst strike at the San Isidro headquarters in Havana, Cuba on Wednesday, November 18, 2020 following the dumping of a chemical substance into their water supply and the blocking of delivery of food. This is a nonviolent strategic response to escalating violence by the dictatorship. The Center for a Free Cuba has also joined the chorus of non-governmental organizations denouncing the threats, harassment, and violence against these activists.

The repression is setting up a negative feedback loop for the dictatorship. International attention from major human rights organizations is focusing on these unfolding events in Cuba, and sectors of Cuban society, despite the best efforts of the regime to silence, distort, and misrepresent what is going on, is awakening to this injustice. Approximately a hundred Cuban filmmakers have signed a manifesto in solidarity with the San Isidro Movement and declaring that they are for life and freedom. Other Cuban cultural figures are expressing their concern and solidarity with the protesters. The Christian Democrat Organization of America (ODCA) that brings together 30 political parties from Latin America issued a statement in solidarity with the San Isidro Movement, and expressing its concern at the regime violence visited upon the nonviolent activists. Cuban Catholic priest Father Jose Conrado declared to Marti Noticias that an understanding between SIM and the government must be reached to lower tensions and resolve this crisis.

Nora Gamez Torres, of The Miami Herald tweeted today “these are not the 60s, 70s, or 80s. These are government-organized repudiation acts in Cuba against dissidents in their 2020 version. Apparently foreign correspondents were also harassed.” Univision 23 confirmed that foreign correspondents from AFP and Reuters were forcibly removed from Havana’s Central Park on Sunday, November 22nd.

Carlos Manuel Álvarez, a Cuban based independent journalist and columnist for The Washington Post in his Sunday column provided the following summary of why the San Isidro Movement presents a particular challenge to Castro’s secret police.

“On Nov. 6, Denis Solís, a young and rebellious Cuban rapper, dared to call a police officer who broke into his house to harass him a “chicken in uniform.” He filmed the episode with his cellphone and posted the video on social media. Soon after, during a summary trial without a defense lawyer, Solís was sentenced to eight months of imprisonment for “contempt.”

In Cuba, these frequent outrages used to happen without too much of a scandal; the repressive machinery of the state was capable of disguising its constant episodes of injustice quite effectively. But that cloak, after years of resistance from various political opposition groups, seems to have been finally torn off, never to be mended again. Solís is part of the San Isidro Movement (SIM), and its members launched an impressive campaign of solidarity for his release, which they have already reinvented several times in little more than a week.

The SIM is an organization based in Old Havana, coordinated by the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara — who has also been detained and harassed by the authorities over his performances and protests — and whose ecumenical vocation and amphibious character make the group difficult to classify. It brings together ghetto rappers, design professors, dissident poets, art specialists, scientists and regular citizens. The Cuban forces of law and order are at a particular disadvantage to understand what the group is about — and that is why they act more and more unhinged, visibly exhausted.”

CubaDecide and the Foundation for PanAmerican Democracy reported that at least 22 activists have been arbitrarily detained over the past 24 hours to block them from participating in the protest convened by SIM. They have also set up a number (+17724442465) via WhatsApp for victims of repression to denounce what has been done to them.

This morning Michel Matos, scientist and activist of the San Isidro Movement (SIM) hosted a press conference on the protests that took place yesterday, and the condition of the hunger and thirst strikers and hunger strikers at the SIM headquarters. Regime agents tried to sabotage the Zoom call, but failed. Foreign correspondents took part in the call and asked their questions. Matos drew attention to the drastic deterioration of hunger and thirst strikers Maykel Castillo and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. “Their organs can collapse at any moment,” said Matos, pointing to the event taking place at the SIM headquarters located at Damas 955, between San Isidro and Avenida del Puerto, where several strikers are on their fifth day. The scientist and SIM activist requested the intervention of the International Committee of the Red Cross in view of the danger not only that both strikers collapse, but that they be treated by pro-regime doctors who could be collaborating with the secret police, as has happened on other occasions to the detriment of the patients.

We continue to monitor the situation.

The Washington Post, November 22, 2020

Global Opinions

A group of Cuban artists is daring to live in democracy. Their protest could end in tragedy.

The arrest of the Cuban rapper Denis Solís in Havana triggered a wave of protest actions from artists and activists. (Denis Solís)

The arrest of the Cuban rapper Denis Solís in Havana triggered a wave of protest actions from artists and activists. (Denis Solís)

Opinion by Carlos Manuel Álvarez

November 22, 2020 at 3:30 p.m. EST

Carlos Manuel Álvarez is a Cuban author and journalist.

On Nov. 6, Denis Solís, a young and rebellious Cuban rapper, dared to call a police officer who broke into his house to harass him a “chicken in uniform.” He filmed the episode with his cellphone and posted the video on social media. Soon after, during a summary trial without a defense lawyer, Solís was sentenced to eight months of imprisonment for “contempt.”

In Cuba, these frequent outrages used to happen without too much of a scandal; the repressive machinery of the state was capable of disguising its constant episodes of injustice quite effectively. But that cloak, after years of resistance from various political opposition groups, seems to have been finally torn off, never to be mended again. Solís is part of the San Isidro Movement (SIM), and its members launched an impressive campaign of solidarity for his release, which they have already reinvented several times in little more than a week.

The SIM is an organization based in Old Havana, coordinated by the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara — who has also been detained and harassed by the authorities over his performances and protests — and whose ecumenical vocation and amphibious character make the group difficult to classify. It brings together ghetto rappers, design professors, dissident poets, art specialists, scientists and regular citizens. The Cuban forces of law and order are at a particular disadvantage to understand what the group is about — and that is why they act more and more unhinged, visibly exhausted.

After the arrest of Solís, whose whereabouts were unknown, members of the SIM gathered in front of the police station and demanded answers. That day, the police locked them all up, put them in different cells around the city and, close to midnight, released them. This happened a couple of times more, but each time more members were willing to join in. Because there was no response from the police beyond the routine arrests, Otero slept on a bench outside the station and said he would not leave until he heard from Solís. Other colleagues, like Anamely Ramos, did the same.

Now the SIM has become a red-hot spot on the anemic map of Cuban civic temperature. Many curious people in the neighborhood, as if they were stunned by the spectacle of a crackling fire, look at them from afar, because they could get burned, but they cannot stop looking.

Both the danger that the members represent and the seduction they inspire can be explained by the fact that they are perhaps the only Cubans on the island today who are living in a democracy, exotic animals that no one has seen alive in the country in 60 years. SIM’s dizzying strategies make it an almost untraceable collective even for the media that pretends to cover the group’s actions in detail. One has the feeling that the media always arrives a bit late to the events that are brewing there, as if, instead of facts, we were talking about flashes, the wake of things that have already happened. In less than a blink, the movement is elsewhere.

But what does it mean to live in a democracy? Probably to live as a shut-in, because the street in Cuba is a prison. On Nov. 16, on the 501st anniversary of Havana, the poet Katherine Bisquet helped the SIM organize an event called “Poetic Whisper,” a sort of collective peaceful pilgrimage that would stop to read poetry at different strategic points such as Solís’s house, the corner where he was arrested and heritage sites such as the Alameda de Paula or the Convent of Santa Clara, a place that embodies the tradition of Cuban civic protest.

It was a way to trace the real circuits of the city, the free reconfiguration of the political territories. By rewriting the route of repression with its poetry reading, the SIM did not seek to erase or forget some arbitrary demarcations, but rather to accentuate through a peaceful gesture the weight of that culture of abuse in the national memory. Resistance graffiti doesn’t paint anything that is not already there; it only makes visible the ghostly aura of totalitarianism.

Just when the “Poetic Whisper” was about to take place, the Popular Provincial Court of Havana denied Otero’s request for habeas corpus on behalf of Solís and acknowledged that the inmate was in the Valle Grande prison.

In response, the group’s poetic action became a sit-in at the SIM headquarters, until a neighbor to whom the group had given money to buy food was intercepted by State Security, which surrounded the house and confiscated her goods. That brought about a major escalation of resistance, whose end is impossible to know, but whose horrific limit, if there were no dialogue, seems to be none other than the immolation pit. Now seven members of the group are staging a hunger strike.

Their demands are no longer limited to the release of Solís, but go directly against the widespread state of poverty and sustained lack of civil liberties in the island. The San Isidro protesters seem ready to found their own country, seemingly inspired by the lines of the Sui Generis song, also written against another military regime: Si ellos son la patria / yo soy extranjero. (If they are the fatherland / I am a foreigner.)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/11/22/group-cuban-artists-is-daring-live-democracy-their-protest-could-end-tragedy/

Washington Blade, November 22, 2020

Cuban authorities detain Blade media partner’s editor

by Michael K. Lavers

Cuban authorities on Sunday detained the managing editor of the Washington Blade’s media partner on the Communist island.

Cuban authorities on Sunday detained the managing editor of the Washington Blade’s media partner on the Communist island.

Maykel González Vivero in a series of messages he sent to the Blade shortly after 8 p.m. EST said a police car drove him to a “dark road” about 15 miles outside of Havana and released him. González a few hours earlier in a post on his Facebook page wrote he is “a journalist and I am going to get myself detained now by the police. Without force. Without drama.”

González has backed members of the San Isidro Movement, a group of independent artists, who are currently on a hunger strike to protest the rapper Denis Solís’ arrest earlier this month. Authorities on Sunday also detained Luz Escobar, a reporter for 14ymedio, an independent website founded by Yoani Sánchez, a prominent critic of the Cuban government.

Florida Congresswoman-elect María Elvira Salazar on Sunday in a tweet in response to González’s detention said the “Castro regime continues to arbitrarily arrest, beat-up and persecute all those who dare to speak their minds.”

“This latest wave of repression exposes the barbaric tactics the socialist regime employs to oppress the people of Cuba in violation of all basic human rights,” tweeted Salazar.

Authorities arrested González in October 2016 and September 2017 when he tried to report on hurricanes in the cities of Baracoa and Sagua la Grande respectively. The Cuban government late last year banned González from traveling outside of Cuba.

The State Department’s 2019 human rights report notes the Cuban government “does not recognize independent journalists” and they “sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.”

“Independent reporters experienced harassment, violence, intimidation, aggression and censorship, and several were confined to their homes or prevented from traveling abroad,” reads the report.

Nelson Julio Álvarez Mairata, an LGBTQ Youtuber who contributes to Tremenda Nota and other digital publications, has been detained at least three times since last fall. Jancel Moreno, an independent journalist and LGBTQ activist, says authorities in September threatened to arrest him on charges of spreading “enemy propaganda” and “disrespect (specifically because of my way of not showing respect for authorities, (the way) Mariela Castro’s name comes out …)”

Castro is the daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro who publicly spearheads LGBTQ issues in Cuba as director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education.

Authorities at Havana’s José Martí International Airport on May 8, 2019, did not allow this reporter to enter the country and detained him for several hours before they escorted him onto a flight back to the U.S. This incident took place three days after authorities detained several people who took part in an unsanctioned LGBTQ march in Havana.

The U.S. in September 2019 granted asylum to Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor who suffered persecution in Cuba because he was a journalist. Valdés remained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody until March 4.

https://www.washingtonblade.com/2020/11/22/cuban-authorities-detain-blade-media-partners-editor/

Havana Times, November 23, 2020

Cuba’s San Isidro Movement: Between Poetry & Death

By Irina Echarry

In the house/headquarters of the San Isidro Movement where the hunger strike is taking place.

In the house/headquarters of the San Isidro Movement where the hunger strike is taking place.

HAVANA TIMES – I haven’t slept well for days, I wake up startled when I do. During the day I feel great anguish. Right now, there are young people, some that I know well, who are torn between poetry and death.

How can it be? Because Cuba has become a country of excesses. And poetry has turned out to be a very serious matter. So much so that State Security corners a handful of artists and activists who read poems. They read poems peacefully to demand freedom for rapper Denis Solís, sentenced to eight months in prison after a summary trial.

What more can you say? They were not on a public street, they were surrounded in a private house, the headquarters of the Museum of Dissidence in Old Havana. State Security has prevented food from being brought to them, and friends and family from seeing them. In reaction, the group of artists responded with a hunger strike, starting four days ago.

I don’t like hunger strikes, I don’t agree with mistreating the body in that way because, if you stay alive, there are many consequences. However, this group of young artists doesn’t notice their bodies, rather they look at a social body, the one that is already so mistreated. They hope to repair it, that their example will serve to rebuild a little confidence in ourselves.

And they have been doing it with perseverance and recklessness.

I admire the San Isidro Movement for its courage and its eagerness not to separate itself from ordinary people, from their interests and difficulties. They are a heterogeneous group, which has grown over time.

Believing that in Cuba it is possible to bring together a large number of people to demonstrate against government measures, is a romantic gesture about a necessary desire, which I hope will be achieved.

But we are not in a movie but in real life, with flesh and blood beings, without superheroes, with a government unresponsive to pressure from a few people. People who disagree and are not afraid to say so. They call them mercenaries to discredit them. Today I heard someone say something even more outlandish: “the police have surrounded a group of murderers.”

Assassins, and people repeat it.

When I hear phrases like that, I put my shyness aside, I can’t let things get twisted like that. I make the greatest emphasis on the San Isidro Movement’s demand for the closure of dollar stores. This is something many of us want and do not have the courage to speak out. This is a good point to bring people closer to this group of artists.

However, the only thing I achieve is that those who listen to me change the word “murderers” for the word “crazy.” They are going to die, they tell me, they are crazy, nobody is going to listen to them.

And they repeat it, two, three times. It makes you nauseous.

Even though I would like to hear words of encouragement, I understand that in Cuba there is no culture of civic protest. People don’t know how to do it, and finding out involves jail, stigmatization and loneliness.

However, the San Isidro Movement does know how; it has put the government in check many times. It has forced them to listen; it has shown that there are many forms of struggle. They’ve shown that you can go far through art, dreams are fulfilled, goals are reached. But dying is something else.

Barriers are moved little by little; spaces are gained step by step. But you must be alive for that. There is no point losing young, talented and valuable people. Let’s demand that the government remove its ear plugs, the blindfold; to hear and see what’s happening in San Isidro.

And let’s encourage the group to rethink the hunger strike. Not acting as if there is no other alternative, as if we need martyrs. They are our friends, close people, with families, and we want the same thing: a freer, more respectful, more humane country.

That these artists risk their bodies for an entire country does not make them immortal. If this group of artists dies it will not generate a breakthrough. On the contrary, we will have to carry that weight in our consciences, without these beautiful, creative people. Exactly the people we need to make a better country among all of us.

See this related video.

Read more from Irina Echarry’s diary here.

https://havanatimes.org/diaries/irina-echarry/cubas-san-isidro-movement-between-poetry-death/

Reuters, November 21, 2020

Rights groups denounce Cuba harassment of activist group

By Reuters Staff

HAVANA (Reuters) – A number of international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have denounced Cuban state harassment of a group of activists in Havana who say they have gone on hunger strike in protest against curbs on free speech.

The San Isidro Movement, a group of artists, journalists and academics, has had numerous run-ins with Communist authorities in recent years as it tests and protests limits on freedom of speech in the one party state.

Members and allies say they have been detained multiple times for peacefully protesting the arrest last week of rapper Denis Solis and his sentencing to eight months in prison for what authorities said was “contempt.”

Solis accused a police officer of trespassing in his home, calling the officer a “coward” and a “rat” in a verbal confrontation he livestreamed on Facebook, and insulted Cuban President Raoul Castro.

Six activists say they started a hunger strike last week after authorities besieged their headquarters. Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims.

At least two police cars and more than a dozen officials were blocking access to the Movimiento San Isidro office. A man who identified himself as Jorge Gomez and said he worked for public health authorities said access was restricted due to a coronavirus outbreak.

The Cuban government did not reply to a request for comment.

“The ongoing harassment and intimidation of members of the San Isidro movement … shows Cuba’s ongoing repression of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

She said “contempt” was a crime inconsistent with international human rights law.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch Americas, said on Twitter he was “very concerned.”

The Cuban government dismisses opposition activists as a tiny minority who receive money from the United States to destabilize the government.

Activists say expanded internet access, with improved access to independent information sources – in tandem with greater U.S. attempts to force democratic reform – has resulted in authorities cracking down harder on them.

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-cuba-politics-opposition/rights-groups-denounce-cuba-harassment-of-activist-group-idUKKBN282005?il=0