CubaBrief: Castro regime raids San Isidro Movement headquarters, two activists still missing, and 80 artists now protesting outside Ministry of Culture in Cuba

Cuban artists of the San Isidro Movement have been calling for a dialogue with Cuban officials in the matter of the unjust imprisonment of Cuban artist Denis Solis Gonzalez, and Havana has responded with escalating violence.

It began with detentions when they protested outside of the police station, surrounded the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement and prevented food being brought to them by friends and family, contaminated their water supply with a chemical substance. State security then allowed an individual to knock down the front door with a hammer, and physically assault the artists and academics inside on hunger strike, and on November 26 at 8:00pm the regime shutoff their access to internet and to their phones and organized a rapid response brigade for an act of repudiation. Secret police dressed as doctors raided the San Isidro Movement headquarters and forcibly expelled and arrested everyone inside and beat them up.

Initial list following the crackdown contained 15 activists detained or missing as follows: Luis M. Otero, Maikel Castillo, Omara Urquiola, Anamely Ramos, Esteban Rodríguez, Abu Duyanah, Katherine Bisquet, Osmani Pardo, Carlos Manuel, Iliana Hdez, Jorge Luis, Yasser Castellanos, Oscar Casanella, Adrian Rubio, and Anyel Valdes.

State security operation in Havana outside the San Isidro Movement on November 26th at 8:30pm

State security operation in Havana outside the San Isidro Movement on November 26th at 8:30pm

Furthermore, we now know that the activist Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina was intercepted while trying to reach Havana to show his solidarity with the hunger strikers. In the case of Mr. Lobaina he was held from 12:14am on November 26th until the morning of November 27 ( more than 24 hours and sent to Santiago de Cuba, the other side of the island). Surely, he has not been the only one detained, but is the one we know about.

Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina

Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina

The international reaction to this repression of artists, despite it coinciding with Thanksgiving in the United States, has been widespread, uniform and critical from all ideological orientations. Amnesty International identified Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Anamely Ramos González as prisoners of conscience and demanded their immediate release.

Groups that focus on the rights of artists are speaking out in force. Freemuse, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), Finnish Music Council, Finnish Musicians’ Union, CREO (Norwegian Musicians Association), Artists at Risk AR-Perpetuum Mobile, and Safemuse today condemned “the harassment, police violence, human rights violations and repressive acts perpetrated by Cuban authorities against artists, journalists, and cultural rights defenders in the county, including those relating to the peaceful demonstrations against Denis Solis Gonzalez’ detention and subsequent imprisonment,” and also supported “the calls of the Cuban artistic community to encourage the authorities in the country to engage in dialogues with the Movimiento San Isidro to prevent future consequences regarding the health of the artists and activists currently on hunger strike and to stop their repressive behaviour towards artists, journalists, and activists.”

More troubling for the dictatorship, official artists have been speaking critically of the repression against these Cuban artists and academics. In addition to the Spanish speaking press, the crackdown was reported on in The Guardian and by BBC News. Eighty Cuban artists today congregated before the Ministry of Culture in support of the San Isidro Movement. The dictatorship’s strategy of terror to prevent solidarity between Cubans has failed for now.

Eighty artists protesting outside of the Ministry of Culture in support of the San Isidro Movement

Eighty artists protesting outside of the Ministry of Culture in support of the San Isidro Movement

According to ISM spokesperson Michel Matos, both Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Anamely Ramos González were detained again at 6:00am by Castro’s secret police and are still missing at this hour. State security did not want Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara to return to his home, the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, and Anamely refused to remain under house arrest knowing the plight of Luis Manuel.

In addition to Denis Solis Gonzalez there are several other urgent cases of prisoners of conscience: Silverio Portal Contreras, Yandier García Labrada, Josiel Guía Piloto, Edilberto Ronal Arzuaga Alcalá and Keilylli de La Mora Valle. Many other Cubans are unjustly imprisoned under the Orwellian penal code of the Havana regime.

Five urgent cases of Cuban prisoners of conscience

Five urgent cases of Cuban prisoners of conscience

Freemuse, November 27, 2020

Joint call for the release of imprisoned rappers Denis Solis Gonzalez and Didier Almagro in Cuba and an end to police harassment against artists in the country

Screen Shot 2020-11-27 at 5.50.34 PM.png

27 November 2020

UPDATE

According to direct reports, last night, at approximately 11:50 pm police broke into the Movimiento San Isidro headquarters and arrested the group – of which some members are on hunger strike – in a violent act. Reports further state that shortly before arrests, the government cut off Internet services in Cuba for almost an hour.

Diario de Cuba reports that at this moment they have been returned to their homes. Freemuse sources say that they are under house arrest. Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, who was among the detained activists, was released but is not allowed to go to his house, which is in the Movimiento San Isidro headquarters.

Today, art curator Anamely Ramos was arrested again after she was released following the raid on the Movimiento San Isidro headquarters on Thursday night.

In an interview on Facebook, she denounced the events and left to recover her belongings that were at the house of Movimiento San Isidro.

“I refuse to stay in my house with all my things in San Isidro and with Luis Manuel walking around Havana because they don’t know where they are going to take him,” she said before the arrest.

On 9 November 2020, musician, and member of the Movimiento San Isidro, a collective of artists that fight for freedom of artistic expression, Denis Solis Gonzalez, was violently arrested from his home by agents of the National Revolutionary Police in Havana, Cuba. At the time of his arrest, police officers did not present Denis with a valid warrant or reason for the arrest. 

“Sentencing Denis Solis Gonzalez to eight months in prison and Didier Almagro to three years in prison for their artistic expression violates their basic human right to freedom of expression and is in breach of Cuba’s international obligations of the ICCPR,” said Sverre Pedersen, Freemuse Campaigns and Advocacy Manager, “We demand that the Cuban authorities release these artists from prison and drop all charges brought against them.” 

We are extremely concerned for the state of artistic freedom in Cuba – and the resultant hunger and thirst strikes in reaction to these prison sentences – which illustrate the grave reality for artists under the current climate for artistic expression in the country.  

The musician was incommunicado from the day of his detention until 18 November when he was finally permitted to contact family members. Further, Gonzalez was not offered the right to access legal defence.  

On 12 November, in less than 72 hours, Gonzalez was sentenced to eight months in prison on the charges of contempt under the Criminal Procedure Law (LPP) from articles 359 to 383 and transferred to the Valle Grande Prison in Havana after facing a summary trial, as was informed by the Provincial Municipal Court. As Prisoners Defenders states: Contempt as defined in the Cuban law, it requires that it occur when the authority is “in the exercise of its functions or on the occasion or because of them” (art. 144.1 of the Criminal Code of Cuba). In this case, this requirement exceeded officers in their functions to the point of illegally searching the house and filming Denis in his private environment without giving or presenting or using a court order, arrest warrant or any reason whatsoever. 

From 12-15 November, members of Movimiento San Isidro that were requesting information on the whereabouts of Denis Solis at the Police Station at Cuba and Chacón were daily arbitrarily detained for hours.  On 16 November, after several attempts to find out the status of his case and where he was being held, police officers informed Movimiento San Isidro members about Gonzalez’s sentence and the location of his imprisonment.  

On 13 November 2020 musician Didier Eduardo Almagro Toledo was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of contempt of court and public disorder as informed by the authorities to his family. He was accused of participating in an anti-government demonstration protesting power cuts in his neighbourhood on 4 August 2020 . According to reports from the musician’s friends and family, Almagro was beaten and denied the right to speak to his family following the detention. Although Didier is in Santa Clara Prison, the family hasn’t yet allowed access to the Trial Sentence. 

According to Cuban organisation Cubalex, between 10 and 23 November 2020 authorities in Cuba have arbitrarily arrested more than 34 people, including Movimiento San Isidro artists, activists, journalists, and others who joined the demand for Denis Solis’ release from detention.  

In particular, the peaceful protests demanding the release of Denis Solís have provoked an escalation of violence that ranges from the siege of the Movimiento San Isidro headquarters in Old Havana to cut off access to housing located in Damas 955, to more aggressive measures such as preventing food and water from being delivered to members. 

This has triggered an extreme response by the artists, whereby six artists and activists have been on hunger strike since 18 November to protest the imprisonment of Gonzalez and call for his release. These activists include Esteban Rodríguez, Oscar Casanella, Iliana Hernández, Osmani Pardo and artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Osorbo, who were also on a water strike which has now ended. Cuban poet Katherine Bisquet joined the hunger strike on 21 November. 

We, the undersigned, condemn the harassment, police violence, human rights violations and repressive acts perpetrated by Cuban authorities against artists, journalists, and cultural rights defenders in the county, including those relating to the peaceful demonstrations against Denis Solis Gonzalez’ detention and subsequent imprisonment. 

We also support the calls of the Cuban artistic community to encourage the authorities in the country to engage in dialogues with the Movimiento San Isidro to prevent future consequences regarding the health of the artists and activists currently on hunger strike and to stop their repressive behaviour towards artists, journalists, and activists.  

Signatories: 

Freemuse 

PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) 

Finnish Music Council 

Finnish Musicians’ Union 

CREO (Norwegian Musicians Association) 

Artists at Risk AR-Perpetuum Mobile 

Safemuse

https://freemuse.org/news/joint-call-for-the-release-of-imprisoned-rappers-denis-solis-gonzalez-and-didier-almagro-in-cuba-and-an-end-to-police-harassment-against-artists-in-the-country/

The Guardian, November 27, 2020

Cuban security forces evict hunger-striking activists in raid on HQ

Dissident San Isidro movement little known until it publicised protest on social media

By Reuters

Cubans living in Spain protest earlier this week in support of the San Isidro Movement AFP/Getty

Cubans living in Spain protest earlier this week in support of the San Isidro Movement AFP/Getty

Cuban authorities have broken up a protest by a group of dissident artists, academics, journalists and activists, evicting them from their headquarters where they had declared a hunger strike against curbs on civil liberties.

Authorities said they had to intervene late on Thursday because of violations of hygiene protocols to prevent coronavirus spread. But the group said this was an “absurd” pretext for ending a protest that shone a spotlight on rights abuses in the one-party state.

“They entered by force, breaking the door,” said Iliana Hernández, an independent journalist, in a video livestreamed on Facebook. “Many military people as if they were doctors wearing gowns.”

Hernández said police had detained her and others before taking them to their homes. The group said as of 1am local time three of the 14 detained were still out of contact.

The San Isidro movement had been little known before it publicised the protest on social media, uniting Cuba’s normally fractious opposition groups in sympathy and drawing criticism of authorities by human rights groups such as Amnesty International.

The movement was founded in 2018 to oppose a new decree that limited freedom of speech, often through using irreverent artistic performances. It has had numerous run-ins with Cuba’s communist authorities, which frown upon public dissent.

After group members protested against an eight-month jail sentence for the rapper Denis Solis on charges of contempt, security forces besieged its Havana headquarters earlier this month.

Eight members and supporters of the movement then declared a hunger strike and said some were not drinking water either. Reuters could not independently verify this as security forces blocked access to the premises.

Coming amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, the events have galvanised some Cubans who usually shy away from talking politics to criticize the government’s handling of the situation.

Prominent Cuban artists including the musicians Carlos Varela and Haydée Milanés and the film-makers Carlos Lechuga and Claudia Calviño called on the government to show tolerance.

“We called for dialogue,” Milanés wrote on Facebook on Thursday night. “We have not been listened to.”

The activists who had already been freed on Thursday night vowed to keep on fighting. “Denis Solis remains imprisoned,” the writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez wrote on Facebook. “We cannot leave him alone.“

The government said it was prompted to take action on Thursday by the fact Álvarez joined the strikers without notifying authorities of his change of address shortly after arriving in Cuba from the US.

A member of the San Isidro movement, Michel Matos, said if the authorities were truly worried about coronavirus, they would not have allowed him and most of the others to go home.

The government said dissidents were mercenaries who sought to destabilise Cuba. Earlier this week, the state-run media published articles that said the hunger strike was a show orchestrated from Miami and Washington.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/27/cuban-security-forces-evict-hunger-strike-activists-in-raid-on-hq-san-isidro-movement

The Art Newspaper, November 27, 2020

Hunger strike against Cuba’s human rights abuses left artist in ‘critical condition’

Activists and artists were trapped in Havana building following demonstrations against police action

Gareth Harris

27th November 2020 12:33 GMT

The Cuban artist Anamely Ramos González has released a film on YouTube warning that fellow activist and artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is in a “critical condition” after going on hunger strike for more than seven days. The pair were hiding in an undisclosed building in Havana as part of an escalating row over alleged human rights abuses by Cuban state security.

Ramos González and Otero Alcántara are members of an art collective known as the San Isidro Movement, which has been campaigning against the arrests and imprisonment of two rappers, Didier Almagro and Denis Solis Gonzalez. The latter received an eight-month prison sentence for confronting a police officer who entered his home without a warrant.

Hyperallergic reports that the San Isidro activists were held by police on 9 November following a peaceful protest in support of the rappers. They were released but ended up barricaded in the San Isidro headquarters in Old Havana with 14 artists, poets, and musicians among those trapped inside.

According to sources at the San Isidro House, last night at approximately 11.50 pm, police broke in and removed those on hunger strike “in a violent act”. They add that the “government cut off all internet services for almost an hour. At this moment they have been returned to their homes, after being detained by the police, except for Luis Manuel and [another activist] Jorg Luis who are still at the police station.”

The Copenhagen-based human rights organisation Freemuse says that six artists and activists had been on hunger strike within the besieged block since 18 November. A spokeswoman said: “Activist Michel Matos reported that artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and rapper Maykel Castillo, known as Maykel Osorbo, are on the verge of a multi-organ failure because they had not eaten food or drunk water for days.” Other people on the hunger strike included the journalist Iliana Hernández and the activist Oscar Casanella.

Amnesty International says in a statement: “Images that Amnesty International verified show that at one point the authorities appeared to cordon off the block of the headquarters with yellow tape, limiting the group’s freedom of movement. Members of the group said they were under 24-hour surveillance by plain-clothed state security officials and feared they would be detained again if they tried to leave.”

In the video posted on YouTube on 25 November, Ramos González says that she was also on hunger strike, adding that Otero Alcántara is “not going to abandon his hunger and thirst strike” after seven days. She claims in the video that the police intercepted food coming into the headquarters, a move which sparked the radical action. The Cuban state “can no longer justify the constant violations of humans rights”, she says. Meanwhile, more than 1,600 arts professionals worldwide, including Cuban activist and artist Tania Bruguera, have signed a petition calling for the release of Solís González.

Earlier this year, Otero Alcántara was arrested for alleged property damage following his involvement in an anti-censorship protest.

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/cuban-artist-luis-manuel-otero-alcantara-in-a-critical-condition-after-going-on-hunger-strike-says-protestor-in-youtube-film

Amnesty International, November 27, 2020

Cuba: Amnesty International calls for release of two San Isidro prisoners of conscience

Erika Guevara-Rosas/Amnesty International

Erika Guevara-Rosas/Amnesty International

Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and academic Anamely Ramos González are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely because of their consciously held beliefs, and should be granted immediate access to communication with the outside world and released, said Amnesty International today.

The two members of the San Isidro Movement of artists and activists were detained, along with other members of the group, late last night or early this morning, following a police raid on their headquarters in Old Havana. While most of those detained were taken to their homes and, according to information Amnesty International was able to gather, are under surveillance, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Anamely Ramos González are being held incommunicado, without access to communication with the outside world and the grounds for their detention unknown.

According to Cuba’s official newspaper, the authorities conducted the raid due to violations of alleged COVID-19 related health protocols.

Members of the movement had been hunger striking in recent days and calling for the release of another member of the group, Denis Solís González, who was sentenced to eight months for “contempt,” a crime inconsistent with international human rights standards which means he should be immediately released.

“These activists might be irreverent, they might be criticising the authorities in a way that is uncomfortable for them, and they have generated huge international attention this week with their peaceful activism and use of social media, but what kind of state tries to crush ideas by ruthlessly robbing people of their right to free expression?” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International previously named Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a leader in the movement opposing Decree 349, a dystopian law that stands to censor artists, a prisoner of conscience in March. At the time of last night’s detention, he was carrying out a hunger strike.

According to information from the NGO Cubalex, when authorities detained Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara after the raid they refused to let him return to the movement’s headquarters, where he lives and his whereabouts is now unknown.

Anamely Ramos González, an academic, was seen just minutes before police detained her in a Facebook live stream. While she was also initially detained during the raid, and then released to her home under apparent surveillance, she was detained a second time when she tried to leave her home early on the morning of 27 November.

Background information

Amnesty International has previously expressed concern that Decree 349 is likely to have a general chilling effect on artists in Cuba, preventing them from carrying out their legitimate work for fear of reprisals.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/cuba-amnesty-calls-for-release-two-san-isidro-prisoners-conscience/