On 11 July 2021, anti-government protests erupted in more than 50 locations across Cuba to demand protections against the spread of COVID-19, political reform in the country and expressing discontent over food shortages and high prices. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel responded by restricting access to the internet and calling on Cuba’s “revolutionary citizens” to take to the streets, militarise the island with police officers and pro-government counter-demonstrators. Independent media and civil society organisations in Cuba reported how individuals were detained, arrested, or disappeared, and at least one man died during a clash between protesters and police. These repressive actions transcended 11 July as the Cuban authorities continued to prosecute and imprison those connected to the protests.
According to human rights organisation Cubalex, more than 250 people have disappeared or been imprisoned since the 11 July protests. Amongst these are members of the 27N artist-activist group, with Actors Edel Carrero, Daniel Triana, Renier Díaz Vega, art historian Solveig Font, theatre director Yunior García, filmmakers Greta Medina, Juan Carlos Sáenz, Raúl Prado, attacked by Cuban Institute of Radio and Television Broadcast (ICRT) workers – who have control over streaming – whilst protesting to demand unrestricted streaming of the day’s events. The artists were detained by police officers and released within two days under house arrest on a charge of “public disorder”.
On the same day, visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and poet Amaury Pacheco, members of Movimiento San Isidro (MSI), were detained en route the Malecón in Central Havana to join the protesters. According to Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s lawyer, the artist was transferred to a maximum-security prison for the alleged crimes of attempt, resistance, and contempt. Amaury Pacheco was released on 13 July. Similarly, hip hop singer Richard Zamora, aka El Radical, was arrested at a protest in the city of Matanzas and on 12 July, the authorities informed his relatives that he faced a precautionary measure of imprisonment under the charges of public disorder.
Further, Freemuse has documented how the whereabouts of some artists are unknown following their detention without charge. On 11 July, musician and Dj Omar Planos Cordoví was detained during a protest and whilst authorities informed his relatives that the musician is safe, his whereabouts are unknown, as well as the rapper Ramon López Díaz aka El Invasor. Other artists like photographer and filmmaker Anyelo Troya and theatre director Alexander Diego Gil, have been subject to the same restrictions on freedom of assembly, access to legal services and received prison sentences of up to one year on charges of public disorder, just for participating in or taking photographs at demonstrations.
The use of disproportionate force and arbitrary detentions against protestors, including artists, for participating in these unprecedented demonstrations in Cuba violates the basic tenets of international human rights law. Freemuse stands in solidarity with every Cuban artist and cultural actor who has faced any form of repression or subjugation and calls on the Cuban authorities to uphold human rights in the country.
Read more about artistic freedom in Cuba in our submission to the Universal Period Review on Cuba with PEN International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) – PEN America.