Dialogue and political tolerance shake Cuba | International

A classic vehicle on a street with murals of the Cuban flag, next to the Capitol, in Havana.
A classic vehicle on a street with murals of the Cuban flag, next to the Capitol, in Havana.Ernesto Mastrascusa / EFE

Dialogue. Freedom of speech. Political Tolerance. End of censorship and harassment by the police against dissenters. Spaces for independent art and activism. Never in Cuba had there been so much and so clear talk about these issues. Never with so much passion and from so many different positions after what happened in Havana on November 27, when hundreds of young artists and makers demonstrated at the doors of the Ministry of Culture (Mincult) to demand a dialogue with the authorities on these issues marrow. After sitting quietly for hours, a delegation of 30 young people was chosen by the group, accompanied by the filmmakers Fernando Pérez and Jorge Perugorría, two consensus figures who came to support them that evening by the Deputy Minister, Fernando Rojas, and others. civil servants.

“It is time for a dialogue,” Perugorría said before entering the meeting, which lasted five hours. There they spoke in total freedom. Several of those in attendance, the most politicized, openly declared themselves opponents, denounced the repression against them for their art and their activism, and the official party listened to their demands. Nobody got up from the table. The meeting concluded with the agreement to initiate an emergency debate with the institutions on these issues, which related to freedom of expression and creation and even more so to the freedoms of the citizen.

The unusual sit-in took place as a result of what happened around the San Isidro movement (MSI), a group made up of independent artists and dissidents whose proposal stems from political provocation and who the authorities simply refer to as ‘counter-revolutionaries’ and ‘mercenaries’. consider. Washington service. The eight-month prison sentence for contempt of a group rapper named Denis Solis caused several members to go on a hunger strike and barricade themselves in the home of their leader, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. On the night of November 26, they were forcibly expelled, an action justified on the grounds that the writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez had arrived from the United States days earlier to join the protest, violated health protocols designed to cope with Covid-19 and pose a health risk. Called up the next morning via social networks In response to that event, the 27N took place.

Author of movies such as Havana Suite O Life whistlesAt the age of 76, Fernando Pérez is a respected figure in his country, both by young makers and by institutions. In the past, he has taken part in various cultural controversies and was part of the group negotiating the opening of spaces for independent cinema in Cuba, so he was not a novice to the field. “But,” he asserts, “this time everything was different.”

“The night of 27N I felt like I was traveling to the future. During that journey, I shared, along with the young artists who stood in front of the Mincult, an open, inclusive, diverse, multiple space, in which those young people foreshadowed the Cuba that many Cubans of all generations have dreamed of and still dream of ”. According to Pérez, this was “a political demonstration, but it manifested itself as a poetic act, without violence, with songs, poems, sensitivity, thoughts. And that thought came from the emotional interventions of many of the young people who spoke at the meeting.

Listening to them, he confesses, he first felt “the expectation of that new language that has long been inevitable, not just in our culture, but in our entire society.”

But the next day came. And I woke up from the dream? suddenly lands in the present ”, says the filmmaker. “On television there was the same speech again, the same informative language that showed only one part and excluded others: on the small screen the youngsters no longer existed, like a lifeless picture, without a voice.” It was a crazy week. On television, day after day, messages began to appear against members of the MSI (not against the protesters of 27N) and social networks boiled, for and against, with an unprecedented virulence.

The email sent to the Ministry by representatives of part of the group of 30 with the preparatory agenda for the next meeting, demanding the immediate release of rapper Denis Solis, the inclusion in the list of participants of interlocutors such as Otero Alcántara or who was present in the dialogue the president of the country, Miguel Díaz-Canel, responded by the institution with the abrupt breaking of the dialogue (which had not yet started). “The Minister of Culture will not meet people who have and receive direct contact funding, logistical support, and propaganda support from the United States government, ” announced a statement, which left the doors open for a meeting with “ those artists who met before the Mincult on November 27 who had their work with the enemies of the Cuban Nation ”.

The bridges broke, as the offensive continued in the official press and various acts of rejection were staged against members of the MSI, whose leaders were not allowed to leave their homes, a real struggle began in the networks, ideological and also ethical, in which Votes raised by the officers were respected, like the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, sided with the dialogue. “It gives the impression that they have done everything to suspend the dialogue, to remove it from above,” Silvio said on his Second Date blog.

Singers like Carlos Varela, Haydee Milanes or Leoni Torres, intellectuals, psychologists, academics like Carlos Alzugaray or Julio Cesar Guanche also demanded debate and political waistline to sit down and talk, and the main Masonic leaders asked the same. The Catholic bishops also appealed in their Christmas message “On dialogue and negotiation between people who have different opinions and criteria.”

Institutions such as the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and the youth association Hermanos Saíz (AHS) have expressed their support for the Mincult for “disagreeing with manipulation, blackmail and nonsense”. But two of the provincial sections (that of the Isle of Youth) distanced themselves from the official position and issued a joint statement stating, despite their disagreement with ‘some interference from foreign government’, They expressed their “fear” about the “simplification” of what was happening in the mass media. “It will not be through the path of disqualification from the other that we will evolve into a climate of dialogue and mutual respect. Tell yourself the truth, the whole truth, from the diverse perspective of those who participated in these social events. ”Something very new in Cuba.

The temperature of the debate has moved with the days, but what happened is a turning point; Regardless of what people think of the San Isidro movement, it revealed “serious shortcomings that must be resolved with political tolerance and urgency for the good of all,” said Fernando Pérez. On November 27, after listening to the young people, the filmmaker asked to speak and said he felt “happy”. “For the first time I have the feeling that there is a diverse group in the Mincult; that is a first step. I feel identified with many of his interventions. We must end censorship, manipulation of the official press, acts of rejection. Freedom of speech is free or not, and that must be applied to all spheres of reality ”. “There must be concrete answers to what has been said here. In many ways, diversity is the strength of this nation, ‘he said at the end.