After rare protests and disagreements in Cuba, artists say government agrees to future talks

HAVANA – It was a historic moment in Cuba after more than 200 young artists and activists protested in front of the Ministry of Culture on Friday demanding the release of a imprisoned rapper as well as free speech.

The demonstration and meeting was a rare event on a communist-led island where opposites are not tolerated. The crowd sang the national anthem and recited a poem in unison.

Thirty members of the crowd were admitted to the ministry for an hour-long meeting on Friday night. Finally, officials agreed to review the case of the imprisoned rapper and to negotiate in the future over their complaints about freedom of expression.

At Saturday’s virtual press conference, Michel Matos, who was present at the talks, called Friday’s events giant. He said MPs “told the truth” and officials listened “in great silence”.

Well-known personalities, including the internationally renowned artist Tania Bruguera and actor Jorge Perugurría, appeared at the protest and were among those who spoke to officials.

Some in the social media launched further protests on Saturday, but in the morning there was no one outside the Ministry of Culture. Three police cars were standing there.

Calls to more than 30 of Saturday’s MPs were unanswered or received a busy signal.

The protest came after authorities smashed a group of 14 artists, academics and independent journalists gathered to date, six on hunger strike at one of their artists ’homes in Havana’s historic center Thursday night. The 14 activists are part of a larger group known as the San Isidro Movement.

Authorities said the expulsion was necessary because one of the 14 members had recently arrived from Mexico and was not properly quarantined.

One of their members, the group, protested against the imprisonment of rapper Denis Solis. He was arrested on November 9 and sentenced to eight months in prison for contempt after insulting a police officer in a dispute.

The Cuban government calls members of the San Isidro Movement, as well as other dissident groups, terrorists associated with the United States.

Protests and hunger strikes

Two of them, plastic artist Luis Manuel Alcántara and rapper Maykel Castillo Pérez, continue their hunger strike.

At Saturday’s press conference, Matos said Alcántara is in a stable condition in a hospital under medical and police surveillance. Castillo is at home in a “deteriorating condition”. According to Michel, his life is at greater risk than that of Alcántara.

Of the 14 members of the original group, only one was present at the Friday night protest. Iliana Hernández, one of the 14 members, said the other 13, state security outside their home, prevented them from leaving. Some of them, such as Hernández, have criticized the agreement between protesters and government officials on social media.

In a passionate video, Omara Uquiola called academics “infidels” and “traitors” Friday night protesters. He said “there can be no conversation or dialogue with any ministry” if the original 14 members are not present.

Demonstrations in solidarity with the San Isidro Movement also began on Friday in front of the Cuban Consulate in Madrid and its embassy in Mexico City.

The governments of the United States, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have voiced concerns about human rights in Cuba over the past two days.

Orlando Matos and Roberto Leon from Havana and Carmen Sesin from Miami.

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