Cuban artists and activists held a rare public protest outside the Havana Department of Culture calling for the release of a dissident rapper and an end to censorship and political repression in the country.
The 200-strong demonstration began on Friday and lasted into the night after police broke off an opposition hunger strike. It was supported by prominent cultural workers, including singer Carlos Varela, who urged the authorities for dialogue, while filmmaker Fernando Perez quipped before joining the ministry, "It's time for a new language".
The protest raised the question of whether Cuban cultural policy, based on Fidel Castro's famous words to artists, writers and intellectuals in 1961, “did everything within the revolution; nothing against the revolution ”- the internet age can survive.
Most of those gathered in Havana shared a history of social media activism and expressed frustration for years at the stifling control of the arts by one party's political system.
"I applaud the peaceful mobilization of Cuban artists and intellectuals to urge Latin America's oldest military dictatorship to respect public freedoms and human rights," tweeted José Miguel Vivanco, America's director for Human Rights Watch. "This is historical and needs support."
The protesters' demands included a review of the rapper case and dialogue with the government. It also called for "respect for those who hold positions independent of those of the state".
Cuba's last episode of dissent began three weeks ago when rapper Denis Solís streamed live on a confrontation with a police officer who had entered his yard. In it, he threw angry insults at the officer, cursed the communist party leader Raúl Castro and proclaimed support for US President Donald Trump.
Mr. Solís was arrested a few days later, charged and charged with "contempt" in less than a week and sentenced to eight months in prison.
Last Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo strongly condemned "the harassment of activists by the Cuban regime who peacefully protested the detention of human rights defender Denis Solís González" and called on Havana to release Mr. Solís unconditionally.
Mr. Solís is a member of a small collective of performance artists and activists called the San Isidro Movement, who regularly stage dramatic freedom of expression activities that are often contrary to the authorities.
The Cuban authorities view the group as part of a US-funded effort to overthrow the government. According to Havana, this also includes independent Internet news in Cuba and at least five platforms that broadcast into the country from abroad.
Around a dozen members and supporters of the movement gathered at the San Isidro Group headquarters after Mr. Solís was arrested, and six announced that they had been on hunger strike.
The tech-savvy collective spent a week getting their message out, highlighting the fate of Mr. Solís. The protest was supported by Washington, Cuban exiles in Miami, several other governments and organizations such as Amnesty International before authorities broke the door and forced them to leave their headquarters, allegedly for violating Covid-19 regulations.
Cuba's state media called it a "US-backed counter-revolutionary show," but protesters said Friday it was "a ridiculous excuse for the same old, same old censorship and repression" while calling for a meeting with the Ministry of Culture.
This meeting took place until Friday evening with 30 representatives of the crowd outside.
When the protest ended at 2 a.m. on Saturday, the protesters had an urgent review of the Solí case and that of another movement member, an agreement to talk about their complaints about politics in various areas of the arts, and a guarantee for independent artists not be harassed by the police.
Amnesty International has called for the release of the Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the academic Anamely Ramos González, members of San Isidro whom he described as prisoners of conscience. It was said that they were only detained for their beliefs after the police operation.