Published On: Tue, Dec 1st, 2020

After historic meeting, Cuba slams protesters, dashes hopes for dialogue


After a groundbreaking protest and rare meeting over the weekend between artists and a vice minister, Cuba’s government has dashed the hopes of activists who had been promised a dialogue over freedom of expression and an urgent review of a jailed rapper’s case.

The communist-run government brought on a barrage of attacks Sunday on state-run television, digital sites, social media, with President Miguel Díaz-Canel calling the protests a “farce,” and an “imperialist reality show” and accusing the United States of being behind their movement.

At a large pro-government rally Sunday, Díaz-Canel said there is a “strategic, non-conventional war to destroy the revolution.”

Hundreds of artists and activists had protested outside the Ministry of Culture on Friday, a rare show of dissent in Cuba. Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas met with 30 of the protesters that night for over four hours and agreed to future talks, among other promises.

Friday’s demonstration came after authorities, citing a Covid violation, broke up a group of 14 artists, academics, and independent journalists that had gathered for days; six of them had been on a hunger strike. They are part of a larger group known as the San Isidro Movement, founded in 2018 to protest curbs on freedom of expression.

The group was protesting the imprisonment of one of their members, rapper Denis Solís, who was arrested on Nov. 9 and sentenced to eight months in prison for contempt after insulting a police officer during a dispute.

There is still a meeting scheduled for Thursday with the minister of culture and the artists.

Tania Bruguera, an internationally known artist who was at the Friday night meeting with Rojas, told NBC News on Monday that her position is that the minister of culture is no longer an appropriate interlocutor because “he has violated agreements agreed at the meeting.”

She called on President Díaz-Canel to spearhead the talks with the protesters.

“At this point of crisis, an interlocutor with real decision-making power is needed,” she said.

Yunior Garcia, a playwright, and another of the 30 who met with Rojas the night of the demonstration is still hopeful talks with the government are possible.

“Dialogue is what’s most sensible to avoid something worse happening,” adding he doesn’t want to see violence in the country.

Cuba is going through dire shortages in food and basic goods, amid the pandemic that has practically halted tourism to the island, on top of the Trump administration’s harsh sanctions.

With this backdrop, García said “I think the government should think about these things and view dialogue as a valid option to avoid a major disaster,” he said.

Yet on Saturday night, a program on state-run television called the San Isidro Movement a group of “mercenaries” that was receiving help from the U.S. government. Officials at Cuba’s foreign ministry summoned the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Timothy Zuñiga-Brown, and complained about U.S. “intervention.”

At Sunday’s rally, Díaz Canel said “Trumpistas,” referring to the Trump administration, and the “anti-Cuban mafia that are now ‘Trumpistas,’” referring to Cuban-American Trump supporters in Miami, “had on their agenda that before the year ends, the revolutions of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela have to fall.”

Later that evening, at a large pro-government rally, Díaz Canel said “there is a space for dialogue, for everything that is for-socialism, and for-the revolution.”

Diaz-Canel ended chanting with the crowd a revolutionary slogan popularized in the 1960s to denounce the United States that had lost traction in recent years, “Cuba si, Yanquis no,” or “Cuba yes, Yakees no.”

In a tweet, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Kozak wrote, “Legitimate gov’ts do not fear dialogue w/ their own people. The Cuban regime fears fulfilling agreements it made last week w/ Cuban artists & cultural figures as that would acknowledge their right to express themselves.”

Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s national security advisor tweeted, “We support the Cuban people in their struggle for liberty and echo calls for the Cuban government to release peaceful protestors. The Cuban people must be allowed to exercise the universal right to freedom of expression.”

Orlando Matos reported from Havana. Carmen Sesin reported from Miami.

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