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Human Rights in Cuba: Alleys to Walk

In November 2020, the San Isidro Movement caught international attention when some of its members went on hunger strike to demand the release of rapper Denis Solís González, who had been sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment for contempt against a police officer that allegedly broke into Denis’ house without judicial authorization.

The hunger strike finished following a police raid on the headquarters of the movement in Old Havana – which according to Cuba’s official newspaper was carried out due to violations of COVID-19 related health protocols – where authorities took Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara into custody for several days, and detained academic Anamely Ramos González for approximately 12 hours. In response to the raid and demanding freedom of expression, on November 27th, hundreds of Cubans from different backgrounds, some of them artists and intellectuals, staged a peaceful protest outside the Ministry of Culture and demanded an audience with the Vice Minister of Culture, who acceded and welcomed part of the public into the Ministry. The protest went forward by reading poetry and singing Silvio Rodriguez’s songs, and it marked the first successful spontaneous gathering in sixty years.

For approximately two weeks after the meeting, members of the San Isidro Movement, including Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Anamely Ramos González, and independent journalists were subject to constant surveillance, Internet blackouts and house arrest, without due procedure, since precautionary measures have not been properly set forth.

Tension has been constant since November and exacerbated on May 2nd 2021, when state security officials took Luis Manuel from his home, the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, to the emergency ward of the Hospital General Calixto García. At home, Luis Manuel was carrying out a hunger strike in protest of his artwork being confiscated by Cuban authorities. He remained in the Calixto García for four weeks, until May 31st.

Currently, amid reports of food scarcity and severe deterioration of living conditions, the Cuban government continues to repress all forms of dissent, including by imprisoning independent artists, journalists, activists, and members of the political opposition and civil society groups independent from the Government.

In response, on June 2nd, the David Rockefeller Centre for Latin American Studies and other research institutes issued a joint statement on Cuba’s human rights crisis, standing for their strong condemnation of the repression by the Cuban government against artists and activists seeking artistic freedom and freedom of expression.

Equally, on June 10th the European Parliament (EP) issued a Joint Motion for a Resolution on the human rights and political situation in Cuba given the state of affairs after the exacerbation of the repression, detentions and imprisonment of pacific protestors and freelance journalists. The motion claims a breach of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA), signed between Cuba and the EU in 2016, after two years of negotiations, and condemns the existence of more than 120 political prisoners and convicts of conscience. It also recognizes the persistent and permanent political persecution, the acts of harassment and arbitrary detentions of dissidents in Cuba. Overall, the EP urges the Cuban Government to align its human rights policy with the international instruments to which Cuba is a signatory, and to allow civil society and political opposition to participate in political and social life.

The joint motion is grounded on reports published by Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Foundation and Prisoners Defenders, the 2020 Annual Report of the IACHR, November 6th Communication to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on contemporary forms of slavery, among others.

Since the PDCA was signed, and both parties agreed to establish a human rights and governance dialogue, recurrent human rights violations have been denounced by the Parliament in 2018 (on November 15th) and 2019 (on December 3rd) joint motions. Nevertheless, 2021 motion finally claims that the circumstances mentioned above constitute a breach of the agreement and a case of special urgency, established in Article 85 (3b), which determines that the union should, thereby, take appropriate measures to position itself on human rights non-compliance.

On June 20th Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida returned to the country after completing an artist residency in Germany. After a one-week quarantine, on June 26th, he was arrested and conducted to Villa Marista, a Military’s training facility and prison. He has not been released nor formally indicted of any crime, but apparently the investigation and charges stem from a private Telegram chat between members of the 27N group. These were leaked and analysed by television anchor Humberto López on NTV Nacional, a national channel. In the chat, Lavastida suggested the idea of marking bills of currency with the logos of 27N and the San Isidro Movement in order to extend the brand of these groups in a symbolic public space. This idea was never acted upon or made public.

On July 11th, simultaneous protests waved Cuba in different parts of the island, apparently motivated by videos shared on social media. The numbers are still to be determined, but they show thousands of Cuban protesting and demanding freedom - ‘we are not afraid’.

In response, Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s president, called on all revolutionaries in the country – “all the Communists” - to take the streets. While the island is under internet blackout since then, several videos emerged on social media, exposing severe police violence - more than 100 people are allegedly under arrest.

The Cuban government still does not recognise the existence of Cuban political opposition nor the right of human rights groups and associations that advocate for a political transition. Today, Cuban Criminal Code still holds severe imprisonment for crimes related to dissent in a Special Section embedded in its Second Book, Title First (Crimes Against the Security of the State), including help the enemy (Article 94), and enemy propaganda (Article 103).

Life in Cuba has hardened to tough extremes since scarcity continues to affect basic supplies such as medicines and food, and social tranquillity has been disturbed by the repression exerted by the Government upon any intend of dissent whether for reasons related to politics or not.

The Revolution, in place since 1959 and instituted as a political system with its own characteristics and deficiencies, was once the hope of many Cubans sick of the corruption, crime and political violence that characterized the island during the first middle of the 20th century. Now we, Cubans, find ourselves again back in the fifties, with the great difference that we cannot take back the 62 years elapsed.

What once was for many a promise to universal access to health, education and art; a promise of dignity, honesty, empowerment, altruism and progress; what once was mainly made by the people and for the people, has transfigured over the decades and has resulted in the opposite.

The achievements of the Revolution are far away now. In some black and white pictures that awake certain nostalgia for what we could have been. To look around is enough to understand that our only path forward is to look over the future that partially sparkled on November 27th.


Written by Gabriela Amat


Gabriela Amat is a columnist at DecipherGrey.