CubaBrief: Cuban dissidents gather in front of Ministry of Culture to read poems of José Martí. Minister of Culture responds with physical violence.

“I think they kill my child every time they deprive a person of their right to think.” – José Martí

Two months ago, after agents of the Castro regime raided the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement to round up artists, journalists, and intellectuals on hunger strike demanding the release of jailed Cuban rapper Denis Solis, hundreds of Cuban artists and intellectuals gathered outside the Ministry of Culture in a non-violent sit-in. 32 of the demonstrators were invited into the Ministry as hundreds of secret police gathered around the peaceful protesters threatening repression.

Cuban artists, intellectuals, and journalists gathered outside of the Ministry of Culture on January 27, 2021

Cuban artists, intellectuals, and journalists gathered outside of the Ministry of Culture on January 27, 2021

In the meeting the Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas committed to an ongoing dialogue if the demonstrators dispersed. Emerging from the meeting the sit-in was called to an end and everyone went home. Official media began to slander and demonize the dissidents who had participated in the sit-in for weeks after the meeting. Many also suffered harassment and surveillance. Out of this protest the 27N movement came into existence. On January 27, 2021 three representatives of the 27N movement were scheduled to meet with Vice Minister Rojas, and they were part of a group of approximately 30, with the majority waiting outside. Other activists were detained before leaving their homes.

Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas backtracked on his commitment to dialogue.

Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas backtracked on his commitment to dialogue.

Hyperallergic and The ArtNewspaper reported on yesterday’s crackdown and their articles are shared below. The human rights NGO Cubalex documented what happened and provided greater details along with list of activists impacted:

The group of artists # 27N along with other people linked such as members of the #MSI [San Isidro Movement], journalists and Cuban intellectuals, had planned to meet at the corner of 11 and 4, in Vedado, Plaza de la Revolución municipality, next to the Ministry of Culture to perform a tribute for the birth of José Martí. At least 3 of them (Solveig Font, Camila Lobón and Yunior García) had a meeting scheduled with Vice Minister Fernando Rojas, coordinated and confirmed by the Vice Minister himself the day before. State Security agents made arbitrary detentions and organized surveillance operations illegally imposing home confinement on their members to prevent them from moving and reaching the place where they planned to carry out the activity, consisting of a reading of poems by the national apostle. […]

A total of 29 arrests were made to 27 people (the artists Tania Bruguera and Camila Lobón were arrested twice) and began at approximately 9:00 AM. The artist Camila Ramírez Lobón was arrested at the corner of 11 and 4, in Vedado, along with the journalist Camila Acosta, who documented the moment of the arrest. Ramírez Lobón was detained for an hour and later released. The journalist Luz Escobar was forced to be confined at her home by a State Security agent who remained near her door.

Cubalex reported what happened in front the of the Ministry of Culture based on reports provided by those present.

At least 30 people managed to meet in front of the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture, where they read poems by Martí and asked for the freedom of Tania Bruguera, Katherine Bisquet and Camila Acosta, and continue to refresh the demands that these artists are asking for, until they were interrupted. by officials. At approximately 2:00 in the afternoon, officials from the Ministry of Culture, Alpidio Alonso, Minister of Culture, and Vice Ministers Fernando Rojas and Fernando León Jacomino, who threw blows against the protesters. Specifically, Alpidio Alonso, the Minister of Culture, violently snatched the phone from Mauricio Mendoza, a journalist for Diario de Cuba. All the protesters were violently arrested in the middle of a repudiation rally with the MINCULT workers and forcefully and violently forced into an urban transport bus. They were transferred to the police station located between Infanta and Manglar streets, in the Cerro de La Habana municipality.

Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso attacked an independent journalist

Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso attacked an independent journalist

Among the reports by dissidents detained two are reproduced below taken from Cubalex:

Oscar Casanella, in his social networks, reported on the arrest. He relates that all the members of the group were beaten into an omnibus. He confirms that those who began to push and hit were the officials of the Ministry of Culture, among them the current Minister Alpidio Alonso. After being transferred to the police station, they took him to a classroom where there were other policemen and state security agents guarding him. He adds that Maykel Castillo and Héctor Luis were separated from the group. They did not get them on the bus that took them to Infanta and Manglar. “What we are experiencing today was very unpleasant, very strong,” he declared. During the arbitrary detention he was beaten, a violent repressor punched him in the thorax and in the face, which showed injuries, inflammation and pain.

Camila Lobón and Celia González roughed up and strip searched yesterday.

Camila Lobón and Celia González roughed up and strip searched yesterday.

Camila Lobón and Celia González were stripped naked and their genitals searched with the justification of looking for recording devices, at the police station where they were taken. We also regret the secondary discrimination in the practice of placing policewomen to attack other women for thinking differently.

This violent repression against a peaceful protest attracted the attention of the United States State Department and European Parliament member Hermann Tertsch calling for an suspend the 2016 EU-Cuban Agreement that delinked human rights concerns, compared to the prior one that had been established in 1996 and maintained for 20 years. Parliament member Tertsch is also questioning the European Commission on its relations with Cuba, the failure to suspend the agreement and if development aid is going towards the totalitarian communist regime as repression increases on the island?

European Parliament member Hermann Tertsch put the European Union on notice over twitter stating, “[t]he Cuban dictatorship is once again launching into crime against its own people. We will demand in the European Parliament that the European Commission apply once and for all the democratic clause and suspend its agreement with Cuba that only benefits a communist apparatus that mocks what has been signed.”

Cuban activists launched a petition online demanding the resignations of Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso and Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas. The text in English is included below. We close this CubaBrief with the list provided by Cubalex of activists harassed by the Castro regime yesterday.

List of harassed people

Arrested and later released

  1. Camila Acosta

  2. Amaury Pacheco

  3. Tania Bruguera (twice)

  4. Katherine Bisquet

  5. Oscar Casanella

  6. Hector Luis Cocho

  7. Ismario Rodríguez

  8. Nelson Julio Álvarez

  9. Camila Lobón (twice)

  10. Alfredo Martínez

  11. Eliexer Marquez (Funky)

  12. Sindy Rivery

  13. Miryorli García

  14. Henry Eric Hernández

  15. Celia González

  16. Yamilka Lafita Cancio (Lara Crofs)

  17. Anyelo Troya

  18. Yunior Gutierrez

  19. Julio Llopiz-Casal

  20. Mijail Rodríguez

  21. Ulises Padrón

  22. Solveig Font

  23. Mauricio Mendoza

  24. Carolina Barrero

  25. Reynier Leyva Novo

  26. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

  27. Maykel Castillo (Osorbo) freed at 10 P.M. [on January 27, 2021]

With surveillance at their home

  1. Michel Matos

  2. Iliana Hernández

  3. Luz Escobar

  4. Adrián Rubio

  5. Anyell Valdés

The Art Newspaper, January 28, 2021

Tania Bruguera and members of Cuban artist-activist group 27N arrested in Havana

Footage from the protest also shows the Cuban minister of culture striking a journalist

Gabriella Angeleti

28th January 2021

Members of the Cuban 27N movement, named after a day of major protests in November, gathered again today in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana

Members of the Cuban 27N movement, named after a day of major protests in November, gathered again today in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana

The Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, the journalist Mauricio Mendoza and many other activists and artists were arrested in Havana for their involvement in a protest at the Ministry of Culture on 27 January, during which the culture minister was recorded physically striking at a demonstrator.

Several messages from Bruguera were posted on social media, including a video in which she states that “Cubans cannot accept that there are artists in prison” and that protestors were arrested after responding to invitations for a “dialogue” with the culture minister Alpidio Alonso.

In videos and photographs recorded by several people present, the culture minister can be seen swiping at Mendoza, a journalist for the Diario de Cuba, and knocking down his cell phone. The demonstrators were then arrested and taken onto a bus, where many said they were further attacked by police. Alonso was accompanied by the vice ministers of culture Fernando Rojas and Fernando León Jacomino in the confrontation with protestors. Activists have called for the resignation of all three, as well as Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, in a petition that has steadily gained signatures.

The demonstration on Wednesday took place two months after hundreds gathered to stage another peaceful action in front of the Ministry of Culture demanding freedom of expression after the passage of Decree 349—a law that went into effect in late 2018 that requires artists to register for a government-issued license in order to create work. It was also planned as a tribute to the Cuban writer and revolutionary José Martí, a pivotal figure in Cuba’s independence from Spain who fervently advocated for intellectual freedom in the country.

“We gather again to ‘cultivate and offer’ our white rose,” the members of the 27N movement (named after the November protests) posted on Facebook, referring to a poem by Martí, “of peace, dialogue, civic friendship, reconciliation, forgiveness, transparency, goodness, beauty, poetry. A white rose for friends and for those who consider themselves enemies, as Marti proposed, because we believe in the importance of building Cuba ‘with all and for the good of all’.”

Hyperallergic, January 27, 2020

Cuban Police Detained Artists During Peaceful Demonstration Honoring Writer José Martí

Tania Bruguera and Katherine Bisquet were among those detained prior to a peaceful demonstration convened by the 27N Movement in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana.

by Valentina Di Liscia

A statue of José Martí in Havana. Members of the 27N movement had convened in front of the Ministry of Culture to pay homage to the poet and author, a symbol of Cuba's independence movement. (via Flickr)

A statue of José Martí in Havana. Members of the 27N movement had convened in front of the Ministry of Culture to pay homage to the poet and author, a symbol of Cuba’s independence movement. (via Flickr)

Cuban state police detained several artists and activists of the 27N Movement, including Tania Bruguera and poet Katherine Bisquet, who planned a peaceful homage to the Cuban author and journalist José Martí in front of the Ministry of Culture.

According to the independent Cuban outlet 14ymedio, approximately 20 demonstrators had congregated to read a text by Martí, an important symbol of the nation’s struggle for independence from Spain, on what would have been his 168th birthday.

Independent journalist Camila Acosta, artist Camila Lobón, Bisquet, and Bruguera were among those detained prior to the event to prevent their attendance. Bruguera and Lobón were released hours later, but Acosta and Bisquet’s whereabouts are still unknown, 14ymedio reports. Police remain stationed outside the homes of other demonstrators, including 14ymedio’s own reporter, Luz Escobar.

“They took everyone in a bus, they didn’t let me pass,” playwright Yunior García told 14ymedio. “There were police barricades on every corner.”

In a video posted on ADN Cuba’s Facebook page, Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas tells demonstrators that they may access the headquarter’s courtyard, but they point out that there are armed guards surrounding the building.

“There are police and people with guns here coming to attack us and you know it,” rapper Maykel Castillo Osorbo can be heard saying in the video. “We are only artists. Why so much repression with art?” Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso, seen wearing a blue shirt in the video, walks toward the group and appears to hit journalist Mauricio Mendoza, and a scuffle ensues between the government officials and the crowd.

Police then surrounded and arrested the demonstrators, forcing them onto a bus where “more violence ensued,” according to La Hora de Cuba. The Cuban newspaper shared a video of the arrests on its Facebook page and said that its correspondent Yunier Gutiérrez had been detained. The legal nonprofit Cubalex has posted an ongoing list of the individuals detained today, urging the public to inform them of any others in the comments.

The detainments come exactly two months after hundreds of activists gathered at the Ministry of Culture to demand an end to censorship and the repression of artistic liberties, a call members of the 27N Movement echoed today. Some of the activists who were present at today’s demonstration read a declaration out loud in front of the Ministry near a bust of the Cuban poet.

“We are gathered again to cultivate and offer our white rose,” members of the movement said, referencing one of Martí’s poems. “One of peace, of dialogue, of civic friendship, of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of transparency, of goodness, of good and beauty, of poetry. A white rose for friends and those who consider themselves enemies, just like Martí proposed, because we believe in the importance of creating Cuba with everyone and for the good of everyone, from the values of our apostle and poet.”

In a video posted less than an hour ago by Bruguera addressed to Vice Minister Rojas, the artist expressed her plans to visit the Ministry this evening and have a conversation with the minister.

“I hope that you will receive me when I arrive, and that we can have a transparent dialogue like the one 27N has always sustained with you,” she said.

Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the Brodsky Scholarship for Latin American Art History.

Petition for Resignation of Alpidio Alonso and Fernando Rojas

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We demand the immediate resignation of the Minister and Vice Minister of Culture of Cuba, Alpidio Alonso and Fernando Rojas respectively, and the President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, due to their refusal to dialogue with the citizens who peacefully demand an end to police repression, corruption, and abuse of power. The aggression carried out on January 27 by officials of the Ministry of Culture against artists and intellectuals to whom they are supposed to attend is unacceptable under any circumstance or in any country. The Ministry of Culture has proven itself to be one more repressive State body, rather than an institution at the service of Cuban culture and creators. Enough lies and defamation!!!

We reiterate the demands of civil society represented by the group that gathered outside the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020, and demand that they be understood.

“Today we come here once again, to insist on dialogue, but also to demand to be heard, to exercise our rights as citizens, and to celebrate the unity, serenity, and perseverance that we have maintained with regard to the events of November 27, 2020. In this sense, we state that we will not renounce the demands from that evening, nor will we give up on the demands that we disclosed in subsequent statements.

We demand our right to have rights. The right to freedom of creation, expression and association, dissent and political freedoms.

We demand respect and recognition of our position as independents, and that civil society – of which we are a part – be recognized as a valid interlocutor with the state, without exceptions.

We demand the cessation of harassment, repression, censorship, discredit, defamation, police violence, and political hatred, acts of repudiation, or any other form of violence detrimental to the dignity of the human person.

We demand that official media stop using hate speech against us and that they favor conditions conducive to peace, dialogue, and respect for people, regardless of their political convictions. We want a dialogue that is respectful of differences, that considers all the nuances of our reality, and that leaves ideologies aside and focuses on Cuba and the well-being of Cubans.

In addition, we declare that we will remain faithful to the spirit that led, encouraged, and sustained us on November 27: Civic protest, peaceful, pro-positive, open to dialogue and negotiation with those that differ from us. We continue to assume a moderate and respectful position, while committed to the freedoms, rights, and well-being of all Cubans.

We are committed to a free, inclusive, and democratic society in which we all can have a place. And in this hour of turbulence for Cuba, we invite all Cubans to avoid indifference to suffering and pain and to avoid apathy with regard to our reality. We have an opportunity to bring about change, to assume the reins of our own lives and to conquer a better future for all, to contribute what we can — from the strength of the small — for more rights and freedoms, more dialogue and reconciliation, more prosperity and well-being in our nation.”