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Protestors last month outside the Ministry of Culture, 2020. Photo: Nelson Jalil Sardiñas.
Protestors last month outside the Ministry of Culture, 2020. Photo: Nelson Jalil Sardiñas.

Cuban Artists Continue to Face Government Harassment Despite Historic Agreement

Following a groundbreaking November 27 meeting between Cuban deputy culture minister Fernando Rojas and a group of protesters campaigning against state repression of the cultural sector that led to a promise of greater freedom for those working in the arts, the government continues to harass artists, according to multiple reports.

The protesters had originally convened outside the cultural ministry to voice their dissent against a November 26 police raid that saw the arrest of a dozen members of the San Isidro Movement, a collective that includes scientists, artists, musicians, academics, and regular citizens, who were livestreaming a hunger strike in protest of the government’s conviction of rapper Denis Solís on charges of being in contempt of authority under Decree 349. The decree, enacted in 2018, requires artists to obtain government approval before presenting their work.

The four-hour meeting, which took place when Rojas invited thirty of the roughly three hundred protesters gathered inside to confer with him, resulted in a “truce for independent spaces,” as noted by writer Katherine Bisquet in a December 1 Artnet News article. Shortly after the meeting, however, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel publicly denounced the protesters, among them artist Tania Bruguera, with state-run media demonizing the protests as a “farce” and an “imperial reality show” according to NBC.

On December 2, the Miami Herald reported that Havana police detained for a second time Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara; the artist had been swept up in the November 26 raid, which was conducted under the guise of enforcing social distancing, and sent to Manuel Fajardo, where he remained until December 1, when he was released after ending his hunger strike. Speaking to the Herald, Otero Alcántara, who had not been out of the hospital twenty-four hours before being arrested, said that he was held only briefly before being brought to his grandmother’s house and ordered not to leave.

That same morning, according to an open letter from Cuban artist Coco Fusco posted to e-flux, Bruguera was again threatened by state security agents, while Cuban journalist Carlos Manuel Alvarez, who had been reporting on the hunger strike for El País and the Washington Post, was being attacked on state media, with both being characterized as mercenaries paid by American foundations and state agencies to destabilize the Cuban revolution.” Fusco posited that the intimidation efforts “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.”

According to Fusco, several members of San Isidro remain under house arrest, while protesters who attended the meeting with Rojas are being targeted by state media. Fusco expressed exasperation with a lack of coverage in US media. 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,” she wrote. “This is indeed an American problem as much as a Cuban one.”