By Atahualpa Amerise
Havana, Nov 27 (efe-epa).- The eviction and arrest of 14 Cuban activists in Havana have dealt a severe blow to the opposition that has dispersed and gone practically incommunicado despite support from local artists and international organizations.
On Thursday night, authorities forcibly removed the dissidents from the house of visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara on the Damas street in the San Isidro district, 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.
With the night raid and a mysterious Facebook outage on Cuban mobile networks that prevented the activists from live-streaming the meeting, the Cuban government finally ended one of the biggest challenges it has faced in recent years from the usually fragmented and weakened political opposition on the island.
“They put all the women in different patrol vehicles and the nine men into the armored truck. There was a crowd of people surrounding them, more than 60 people carrying out an act of opposition, shouting slogans,” poet-activist Katherine Bisquet, who was on hunger strike for five days, told EFE.
The Cuban government justified the eviction of 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.
Katherine Bisquet is the only activist of the 14 that EFE was able to contact the morning after the raid on the San Isidro Movement campaigners.
She said after spending over two hours in the police station, they were released early morning but the officers returned their phones in a formatted state with their connections disabled.
Sources close to the protesters said most of them remain in their houses except Anamely Ramos and Otero Alcantara, who has moved to an undisclosed location after refusing to stay at the house of a third party, as his Damas Street residence has been sealed by the police.
The crackdown has brought an effective end to a protest that attracted global attention.
“Until we cannot speak with others, we cannot talk about a plan, a strategy,” Bisquet said.
There is no information available on whether the five hunger strikers, including Otero Alcantara, continue to refuse food.
More than 70 artists had gathered spontaneously on Friday in front of the culture ministry headquarters in Havana to demand a meeting with minister Alpidio Alonso.
“We hope that the minister meets us and receives a complaint over how they (activists) have been treated, also because the artistic freedoms of all of us are under threat,” the group’s spokesperson, playwright Yunior Garcia Aguilera, told EFE.
Art curator Claudia Genlui, a member of the San Isidro movement, said that “the lives of many people are at risk, and what is happening is extreme.”
He said more than 300 people linked to the art world had on Thursday issued a letter in solidarity with the Damas street protesters.
Some of the biggest names of Cuban music, such as Carlos Varela, Leoni Torres, and Haydee Milanes, also expressed solidarity with the San Isidro Movement and urged the government to establish a dialog and respect the diversity of political opinions within the Cuban society.
Outside Cuba, nonprofit Amnesty International expressed support for the young artists.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and foreign ministries of the Czech Republic and the Netherlands expressed concerns over the developments. EFE-EPA