Over 200 young artists and activists protested outside Cuba’s Ministry of Culture in Havana on 27 November, demanding the release of a jailed rapper and freedom of expression (video here).
This came after Cuban police, the day before, had broken down the door of the San Isidro Movement ( MSI) artists’ collective and detained around 14 people, several of them on hunger strike for the same reason. The stated motivation for the raid was violations of Covid-19 restrictions. Most detainees were later released, but that the government blocked access to Facebook and Instagram across the island during the raid shows that their justification was a lie. Police reportedly had previously intercepted a neighbour who regularly brought food supplies to the MSI HQ.
MSI was originally set up as a loose — visual, theatrical, spoken word — artist and activist collective, in response to new restrictions to Cuba’s artists and musicians. In December 2018, the government imposed Decree 349, requiring anyone doing art to be registered and evaluated by the state. This allowed them restricted and unsharable rights, which could be taken away. After previous poetry readings and sit-ins the hunger strike began this November.
It started after one MSI member, a rapper and activist, argued with a police officer who broke into his flat without a court officer. He called the officer a “chicken in uniform”, and shared a video of the confrontation widely. He was then sentenced to eight months imprisonment for “contempt of authority”. The ministry felt forced to receive thirty representatives from the protest for an hours-long meeting. This contrasts not only to their previous reactions to MSI, but, for example, their extreme repression of attempted protests against the Cuban police’s shooting of an unarmed black man, some months ago.
These protests come during Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the collapse of the USSR three decades ago. The collapse of tourism has been strengthened by restrictions by Trump and retaliations by the Cuban state over remittances from the USA to Cuba.