By Atahualpa Amerise
Havana, Nov 28 (efe-epa).- A historic peaceful protest held by more than 300 Cuban artists and intellectuals outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana culminated early Saturday with an unprecedented agreement to hold discussions with the government.
The activists are calling for an end to repression and censorship in the Caribbean nation.
Around 30 of the activists, including actor Jorge Perugorría, movie director Fernando Pérez and artist Tania Bruguera entered the culture ministry to meet with deputy minister Fernando Rojas and other officials, an encounter that lasted four hours.
They agreed to hold periodic meetings to broach their differences.
Both the peaceful protest, at which activists clapped and sang songs, and the meeting between the creatives and the government are unprecedented in Cuba, where there is no de facto right to protest. The Cuban government rarely sits down to negotiate with independent members of civil society.
“We will open a channel of dialogue with the cultural institutions,” poet-activist Katherine Bisquet said after the meeting.
Bisquet is one of the 14 people evicted Thursday from the house of visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara on the Damas street in the San Isidro district of the capital, where the activists had gathered since Nov 16 to demand the release of one of their colleagues, who received an eight-month prison term on charges of contempt.
The Cuban government justified the eviction of the protesters, terming the gathering a “violation of heath protocol by international travelers,” according to a statement published by the state media.
The statement alleged that journalist and writer Carlos Manuel Alvarez, the last participant to join the Damas street gathering, violated the Covid-19 quarantine protocol by entering the house on Wednesday soon after arriving in Cuba from the United States.
The raid on the collective, known as the San Isidro Movement, sparked indignation in Cuba’s creative circles and the spontaneous protest outside the culture ministry swelled to over 300 participants overnight.
The demonstration was peaceful save for one incident when police officers used tear gas sprays against some of the protesters who tried to gain access to the ministry grounds.
As well as opening a channel of dialogue, the government representatives said they would “take interest in the situation” of Denis Solís and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, according to the artists.
Solís is a rapper who was recently condemned to eight months in prison for “contempt” in a trial that the collective described as arbitrary. Otero Alcántara is a member of the San Isidro Movement who had been on hunger strike for one week when he was evicted from his house and detained. His current state of health is yet unknown.
The government also said independent creatives could freely meet up without being “criminalized” by the security forces, according to Bruguera, one of the best-known contemporary artists in Cuba.
“They criminalize us in state media and take independent artists prisoner when they want things done in their houses or in the spaces they have created. They don’t permit us to make films,” Bruguera told Efe.
“As of now, in order to make art, you have to pass through the sieve of the institutions, which is censorship.”EFE-EPA