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The Ministry of the Interior, Havana.
The Ministry of the Interior, Havana.

Cuban Artists File Legal Motion to Remove Culture Minister

Artist activist group 27N has filed a legal motion for the dismissal of Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso, who on January 27 was one of a number of government officials who physically confronted a group of peaceful protesters demonstrating in support of free speech. Alonso can be seen in a video aggressively knocking a cell phone out of the hand of Mauricio Mendoza, a reporter for the newspaper Diario de Cuba, during the protest, which took place outside the ministry building in Havana and was meant to mark the two-month anniversary of a protest against the passage of Decree 349, which requires artists to submit their work to a government review process before being allowed to release or perform it publicly.

Citing a law according to which a public official engaged in behavior unbecoming to his or her office may be stripped of power, artist 27N representatives Solveig Font and Carolina Barrero lodged the February 3 filing on behalf of more than 1,200 artists and activists who signed a petition demanding Alonso’s ouster. Among the signatories were artists Tania Bruguera, Sandra Ceballos, and Tomás Sánchez as well as journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez and art historian Rafael Rojas; Bruguera was threatened by state security agents following the November protest, and Álvarez, who was covering events surrounding it, was attacked in the local media.

Also menacing demonstrators at the protest were vice ministers of culture Fernando Rojas and Fernando León Jacomino, whose resignation, along with that of Alonso and president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, is called for in a separate petition.

Following Alonso’s aggression against Mendoza, which is alleged to have followed the peaceful demonstrators’ request that armed guards depart the area, Mendoza and a number of artists were reportedly forced aboard buses and detained. On February 4, the day after filing the motion to remove Alonso, Barrero was said to have been detained by police while on the phone with Bruguera, who herself was taken into custody by police on December 4, interrogated, and placed on house arrest.

“As citizens of the Republic of Cuba we believe in the right to peacefully assert our rights and we emphatically condemn any manifestation of violence, in particular any manifestation of state violence promoted by institutions and exercised by public officials,” said 27N in a statement. “A public servant cannot use of violence to limit citizens’ rights with impunity.”