At the end of November 2018, activists from the Artistic Movement of San Isidro met for the first time to demonstrate in the streets of Havana and in front of the Ministry of Culture, with the aim of obtaining the repeal of the Decree 349: a law aimed at restricting the creativity of any artistic activity on Cuba. Since the beginning of the movement, our colleagues from the Taller Libertario Alfredo López in Havana have participated in those mobilizations.
Most of the activists in the campaign against Decree 349 are originally from Havana, and many of them live in the Alamar neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is known for an important alternative artistic movement and was home to the most significant hip-hop and poetry festival on the island until it was interrupted and finally cancelled by the Cuban Ministry of Culture.
The activists of this movement adopted the name of San Isidro for the support of the inhabitants of this homonymous neighbourhood, located in the oldest part of Havana, because the residents of the neighbourhood rebelled against the forces of order during an organized music concert to protest against Decree Law 349.
For the artists united against Decree 349, it was clear that the Cuban government did not want the existence of art independent of the state. The state demonstrates this with the suppression of the aforementioned hip-hop and poetry festival, and also the Havana Biennial and the Young Film Festival. Decree 349 was the official response to this type of events, and for the artists, it was a declaration of war. The government did not expect such widespread rejection in response; however, despite the peaceful manifestation of art in front of the most important institution of culture, the decree came into force on December 7, 2019.
The harassment, threats and arrests followed one another throughout the campaign, not only after the summons to the Ministry of Culture. For example, the San Isidro Movement tried to hold a collective meditation in a public park, but all the artists who participated in this meeting were surrounded by the police. Several were detained for hours.
In the eyes of the Cuban government, dissent is not recognized as a right. Anyone who protests against an official design is considered a criminal and is classified as a CR (counterrevolutionary) case. This stigma continues for the rest of one’s life.
The artist’s short time in jail demonstrated that the international repercussions had been significant and that the government was concerned about the implications of the repression. The official response was given through a television program in which the authorities justified the need to apply Decree 349. However, it was said that its entry into force would not take place immediately and that it was necessary to review and debate the regulations. For the movement, this represented a victory. But waiting for the Cuban government to publicly acknowledge a mistake is a utopia, because there is too much arrogance on their part, for fear of losing absolute control over the population.
Hunger strike and its consequences
Between November 9 and 19, authorities again arbitrarily detained and harassed large numbers of members of the San Isidro movement, often on several occasions. Members of the movement, which includes artists, poets, LGBTQI activists, academics and independent journalists, have been protesting in recent days against the imprisonment of rapper Denis Solís González.
Denis was arrested on November 9 and again on November 11. He was then tried and sentenced to eight months in prison for “contempt”: a crime incompatible with international human rights law. He is held in Valle Grande, a high-security prison on the outskirts of Havana. This arrest and subsequent sentence triggered Sain Isidro members to go on hunger and thirst strike, demanding the release of Denis Solís.
After a week of hunger and thirst strike, the Cuban police stormed the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, with the aim of ending the protest. The police also expelled Luis Manuel Otero Alcántar and fourteen other Cubans from the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement in Havana for an alleged crime of disseminating the Covid-19 epidemic, according to Cuban state media.
The Cuban government alleged the crime of spreading the Covid-19 epidemic to arrest the artists and activists gathered at the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement. A group of Cuban artists then asked the authorities to dialogue with members of the San Isidro Movement and then listen to the young people present at the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture. The police held about 15 people under arrest for several hours. Among them were journalists, artists, and teachers who gathered to protest against repression and government policies that increasingly restrict freedom of expression. Following the arrests, writers and journalists from around the world denounced the expulsion from the headquarters and demanded the release of the detainees, which started a few hours later.
The members of the San Isidro Movement, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the singer Maykel Castillo (Osorbo), continue their hunger strike until the Cuban government releases Denis Solís. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is now in the Fajardo Hospital in Havana and continues his hunger strike, reports the official Twitter account of the San Isidro Movement. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara refuses to go anywhere other than his home in Damasco Street in Havana, where the movement’s headquarters are located.
Additionally, Amnesty International declared Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, leader of the San Isidro movement, a prisoner of conscience and called for his release. The AI called on the Cuban government to stop harassing members of the San Isidro Movement and expressed concern about the situation of art curator Anamely Ramos, who is also under police surveillance at the home of Professor Omara Ruiz Urquiola.
This text was originally published in Spanish by A Las Barricadas. It was machine translated and mildly edited. Any issues, get in touch: editor (at) freedompress.org.uk
Featured image: Movimiento San Isidro