Brutally repressed Cuban artists are protesting. Believe me, it’s not Miami’s doing | Opinion

Fabiola Santiago
·5 min read

Hello, Cuban government, this is the left (and the right and the center, too — we all agree on this one) speaking: Stop the fierce and unrelenting repression of Cuban artists.

Stop making the peaceful protest — by some 300 artists and intellectuals in Havana, including an accomplished actor and top director, both supporting the San Isidro Movement collective you brutally attacked — about Miami and the U.S. government.

It’s not.

In fact, these artists could use more solidarity from the U.S. art world, one that sees Cuba with benign eyes and, at this time of year, would be perusing the exhibits at Art Basel Miami Beach were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.

The world may not be here to hear it, but of all times, during Miami Art Week, a call for solidarity with Cuban artists is the right thing to do. But that’s all it is.

This moment of reckoning inside Cuba is no American plot to stir up an uprising and overthrow the government, as you allege in an effort to continue to practice ideological surveillance, quash art content, and arrest and imprison artists for the crime of exercising their craft.

Cuba shuts down dialogue, blames the U.S. for protesting artists who demand more freedoms

Because it is a crime in Cuba to paint, to write, to sing lyrics in any way that a bureaucrat or a police officer might deem inappropriate.

It can land you in prison without charges or access to a fair trial for months, as happened to the artist El Sexto a few years ago. Or, it can land you under constant surveillance, detention, and interrogation by state security as is happening to the San Isidro members now.

Subversion to foreign powers, you call it, underestimating Cubans who can think for themselves.

Voices inside Cuba, not Miami

The voices demanding freedom of expression are coming from inside Cuba.

It’s evident in the careful language they use to ask for what is recognized around the world as a basic human right.

This dialogue has been needed for a long time.,” director Fernando Pérez said at the Nov. 27 protest in front of the Ministry of Culture, covered by The Associated Press. “There’s diversity. There are many points of view. You have to listen and let there be space within this nation.”

“It’s time for dialogue,” said actor Jorge Perugorría, who starred in the acclaimed 1993 film “Strawberry and Chocolate” about the then-taboo subject of homosexuality. “I think it’s important that young people be heard and we are going to work for that.”

In the United States, we’re not this polite when demanding our freedoms.

The unprecedented protest against censorship is homegrown — and the desire for a better way of life universal, but again, the “dialogue” ended before it even started with “President” (he wasn’t elected) Miguel Díaz-Canel.

He publicly attacked the protest as an example of American “imperialists” meddling in Cuba’s affairs.

“They’ve mounted a media show. There is an unconventional warfare strategy [going on] to try to overthrow the Revolution,” Díaz-Canel said at a political event on Sunday. “This is the last attempt by the Trumpistas and the anti-Cuban mafia, which is now also Trumpist. They had on their agenda that before the end of the year, the Cuban Revolution had to fall.”

This is laughable.

Sure, we’ve penciled in on our suburban calendars toppling the almost 62-year regime before we roast the pig in our caja china.

Freedom of expression universal right

You’re only using the demonstrations of international support generated by your brutal repression as an excuse not to grant artists the basic rights enshrined in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Do I need to remind you, Díaz-Canel, that Raúl Castro, former president and current leader of Cuba’s Communist Party, signed it?

“Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,” says the declaration’s preamble.

Read it.

Truth hasn’t lost its value, even if many on both U.S. and Cuban shores conspired against it in 2020.

And that’s what these brave, mostly young Cubans are peacefully standing up for: Their truth, their right to freedom of speech and expression through their artwork, their music, their films.

It’s the 21st century, but instead of evolving, Cuba has only regressed to its darkest history, the hermetic decades when everyone, including artists who had initially supported the Revolution, were muzzled, their homes searched for manuscripts or artwork or B-roll — anything, that could be deemed counterrevolutionary.

Harassed, sidelined and forced into exile, why wouldn’t they support their compatriots in Cuba?

Even back then, artistic censorship wasn’t explicitly embedded in the Cuban Constitution, as it is today, after the adoption in 2018 of “Decreto 349,” an added law that makes artistic expression that isn’t to the liking of the government a criminal act.

You thought this new generation would fold, but instead they organized.

Activist artists such as Cuban performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a founding member of San Isidro, kept testing the censorship law despite the persecution and several arrests he endured.

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And there they were, the San Isidro Movement and its supporters using a public space in Havana, the Ministry of Culture, no less, for democratic purposes.

And, for once, the old left-leaning intellectuals who largely stayed silent, the price for creating art inside the Castros’ Cuba, spoke up, too.

Believe me, Cuban Miami had nothing to do with this act of bravery.