CubaBrief: Protests in Miami and DC as solidarity for San Isidro Movement grows in Latin America, & prestigious artist challenges silence of American art institutions

Solidarity continues to grow across the Spanish speaking world for the San Isidro Movement, and in the Cuban diaspora. In Argentina, key national figures on human rights, culture, academia and politics are speaking out for free expression in Cuba and in support of the Cuban artists collective that is currently a target of Havana’s repression. Yesterday in Miami and Washington DC young people gathered to show their support for the San Isidro Movement, to demand and defend freedom of expression in Cuba, and to call for the release of political prisoner and artist Denis Solis, and all other political prisoners in the island.

On December 3, 2020 from 3:00pm to 5:00pm Cuban human rights defenders from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), CubaDecide, Somos +, Patmos, Center for a Free Cuba, and others not affiliated with any organization protested for the freedom of Denis Solis, and all political prisoners in Cuba, in defense of free expression and in solidarity with the San Isidro Movement.

The San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists founded in 2018 to protest Decree 349, targeted with repression by Havana for defending free expression and demanding the release of Denis Solis, an artist and musician wrongly jailed by the Castro dictatorship.

In the United States, key national figures and institutions on human rights, and politics have spoken out for the San Isidro Movement and artistic freedom, but in the United States important cultural and academic figures and institutions have remained silent. Cuban American artist Coco Fusco has written an open letter dated December 2, 2020 that raises some important questions.

“Many will say this is just a Cuban issue, but it is not. I am asking Americans to stop pretending that your silence has no political consequences. Bruguera and Alvarez are among the best-known Cubans outside the country and are being targeted precisely because they are known in the United States, precisely because they have been supported by American institutions. This is indeed an American problem as much as a Cuban one.

What else has to happen in order for American foundations, museums and newspapers that have supported Tania Bruguera and Carlos Manuel Alvarez to speak out about this situation? Where are all the museum curators that gush about Tania’s work? Where is MoMA? Where are the collectors that have bought it? Where are the editors that have published Carlos Manuel Alvarez? Where are the funders that have given Bruguera and Alvarez grants and awards? Let me name a few of the benefactors so as not to be unnecessarily vague: The Guggenheim Foundation, The Herb Alpert Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The Cisneros Foundation, The Meadows Foundation, and The Open Society Foundation in philanthropy. The New York TimesVice, and Greywolf Press in publishing. Where are the Black Lives Matter leaders that took time to salute Fidel upon his death but say nothing about police brutality against Black artists in Cuba? Why does American progressive media ignore this? There has been nothing about this in The NationMother JonesIn These TimesThe InterceptDemocracy NowLatino USA or Remezcla or Radio Ambulante.”

Fusco is right, and with regards to Black Lives Matter that have said that “silence is violence” and been critical of the “Blue Lives Matter” campaign their silence before the shooting death of a 27 year old unarmed black man, Hansel E. Hernández, on June 24, 2020 by Cuban Revolutionary National police and the dictatorship’s subsequent “Heroes of the Blue” campaign glorifying the dictatorship’s own police raises troubling questions. Hansel had been shot in the back.

Hansel E. Hernandez shot in the back by Cuban revolutionary police on June 24, 2020

Hansel E. Hernandez shot in the back by Cuban revolutionary police on June 24, 2020

Worse yet, that a serious publication such as The Progressive, in the aftermath of the George Floyd travesty would run a story on June 18, 2020 titled “Foreign Correspondent: Police Lessons From Cuba” by Reese Erlich that claims “Contrary to the image of brutal and repressive communists, police in Cuba offer an instructive example for activists in the United States.” Encouraging the reform of police departments in the United States along the dictatorial model of Havana’s 61 year old police state is extremely troubling.

Family member posted a photo of Hansel, and asked for justice.

Family member posted a photo of Hansel, and asked for justice.

Coco Fusco in an ArtNews article on December 1, 2020 reveals the true role of Cuba’s revolutionary police:

“The Cuba police state has been so effective in instilling fear that many believe that getting involved with dissidents leads to social death,” Fusco said. “But the mounting rage over repression of the independent arts sector explains why a very heterogeneous group that included filmmakers, visual and theater artists, LGBTQ activists, and human rights activists dissented in public. That kind of thing is exactly what the repressive forces in Cuba want to hide. They don’t want the rest of the population to get any ideas.”

Local 10 News today reports more hopeful news for Cuban dissidents, René Bolio, a Mexican attorney, who has long been a critic of the Cuban government, is the chairman of Justice Cuba’s international commission. “He co-founded the organization about three years ago to focus on human rights violations. Bolio announced on Thursday that he is seeking legal action against the Cuban officials who are responsible for the human rights violations and crimes against humanity on the island. He and other activists who are members of the commission want Cuba back on the terror list. Bolio also wants the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to be applied to Cuban leaders. They want those responsible for targeting Havana’s San Isidro Movement to face U.S. sanctions.”

e-flux, December 2, 2020

Protest outside the Ministry of Culture, 2020. Photo: Nelson Jalil Sardiñas.

Protest outside the Ministry of Culture, 2020. Photo: Nelson Jalil Sardiñas.

An open letter to American cultural institutions, arts professionals, journalists, and various Cubaphiles

www.e-flux.com

This morning, Cuban artist Tania Bruguera was threatened once again by state security agents for her role in the historic November 27 meeting between Cuban artists and state officials about state repression of the cultural sector. Cuban journalist Carlos Manuel Alvarez, who has been reporting on the hunger strike by art-activists that preceded the November 27 meeting for El País and The Washington Post, is being demonized on Cuban state media. These intimidation tactics are likely to be a prelude to formal charges being brought against both of them as well as others, followed by arrests and possible imprisonment.

Both Bruguera and Alvarez are being called mercenaries paid by American foundations and state agencies to destabilize the Cuban revolution. Other artists that were involved in the November 27 discussion are also being targeted by Cuban state media. Among the original group of Cubans that declared hunger strike in protest of the arrest of rapper Denis Solis, several are still under house arrest. Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, one of the hunger strikers, was just arrested again today after daring to walk outside. Many will say this is just a Cuban issue, but it is not. I am asking Americans to stop pretending that your silence has no political consequences. Bruguera and Alvarez are among the best-known Cubans outside the country and are being targeted precisely because they are known in the United States, precisely because they have been supported by American institutions. This is indeed an American problem as much as a Cuban one.

What else has to happen in order for American foundations, museums and newspapers that have supported Tania Bruguera and Carlos Manuel Alvarez to speak out about this situation? Where are all the museum curators that gush about Tania’s work? Where is MoMA? Where are the collectors that have bought it? Where are the editors that have published Carlos Manuel Alvarez? Where are the funders that have given Bruguera and Alvarez grants and awards? Let me name a few of the benefactors so as not to be unnecessarily vague: The Guggenheim Foundation, The Herb Alpert Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The Cisneros Foundation, The Meadows Foundation, and The Open Society Foundation in philanthropy. The New York TimesVice, and Greywolf Press in publishing. Where are the Black Lives Matter leaders that took time to salute Fidel upon his death but say nothing about police brutality against Black artists in Cuba? Why does American progressive media ignore this? There has been nothing about this in The NationMother JonesIn These TimesThe InterceptDemocracy NowLatino USA or Remezcla or Radio Ambulante

To all those Americans that shower me with questions about Cuba geared to satisfy their touristic urges or their political delusions, when will you answer my questions about your silence on the issues that matter most? I’m not the tour guide you want, but I may be the tour guide you need in order to wake up.

-Coco Fusco
December 2, 2020

https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/364681/an-open-letter-to-american-cultural-institutions-arts-professionals-journalists-and-various-cubaphiles/

Art World, December 1, 2020

Havana Officials Reached a Historic Agreement With Protesters Over Artistic Freedom. Then Cuba’s President Denounced the Deal

The culture minister met with Tania Bruguera and other artists for hours over the weekend.

Brian Boucher, December 1, 2020

A group of young intellectuals and artists demonstrate at the doors of the Ministry of Culture during a protest in Havana, on November 27, 2020. Photo by Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images.

Whatever new hopes for bolstering artistic freedom in Cuba emerged out of a historic meeting this past weekend between dissident artists and Havana officials have already been quashed.

A crowd of 300 protesters had gathered outside the culture ministry on Friday, leading Fernando Rojas, the deputy culture minister, to invite in a group of 30 of them. The meeting lasted for more than four hours, those present have said, and resulted in a promise of greater freedoms for artists. Writer Katherine Bisquet told the press afterward that there had been a “truce for independent spaces” where activists could meet and talk, and that further discussions were promised.