Saturday, November 27, 2021

The San Isidro Movement and 27N: 15 days that shook the Castro dictatorship in November 2020

"It could be that they put me in the cell because of the force of my voice, but I needed the courage to tell the truth." - Denis Solís González, Sociedad Condenada." (Fuente: Movimiento Isidro)* 

San Isidro Movement logo

On April 5, 2018, Cuban rapper Denis Solís González posted the music video Sociedad Condenada (Condemned Society) where he sang about repression in Cuba and predicted his future with the lyrics "it could be that they put me in the cell because of the force of my voice, but I needed the courage to tell the truth." 

On September 12, 2018 the San Isidro Movement came into existence to protest Decree 349, a new law that further tightened the dictatorship's grip over the arts in Cuba. The name San Isidro was taken after the poor neighborhood where the artists lived in Havana. 

San Isidro Movement members protest Decree 349

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is one of the leaders of this movement, and his home in the San Isidro neighborhood is the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement. Over the past three years, Amnesty International has on several occasions recognized Luis Manuel a prisoner of conscience, and he is recognized as one today.

T @yanelysnu This was on September 12, 2018. From that date until now there have been exiles, deportations, arrests but also a #11M & #11J. We are an increasingly strengthened civil society & we do not have to thank #Fidel for anything! #FreeLuisMa #SOSCuba

On May 11, 2019, despite the Castro regime having declared that there would not be a Gay Pride march that year, the march took place. Political police disrupted it, beat up, and detained march participants, but the march nevertheless took place.

Gay Pride march repressed by police in Cuba on May 11, 2019

This movement would carry out a number of campaigns such as #NoAlDecreto349 (#NoToDecree349) #LaBanderaEsDeTodos, (#TheFlagBelongsToAll), and members would suffer repression in varied forms, but a particular set of events elevated its impact.

Denis Solís González is a member of the San Isidro Movement.

He was arrested on November 9, 2020 after sharing a November 7, 2020 video of a Cuban police officer entering his home without a warrant, and Denis calling him “a coward wrapped in a uniform.” 

Denis Solís González jailed for eight months for disrespecting political police

In a summary trial, without a defense attorney, on November 11, 2020 the Cuban singer was sentenced "for contempt to eight months deprivation of liberty," according to Amnesty International. He was  jailed at the maximum-security prison, Valle Grande, located just  outside Havana.”

This sparked a cycle of protests that in the short term culminated in the mass protest outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana on November 27, 2020.

"On 12 November, several members of the San Isidro Movement protested outside of Cuba y Chacón police station, demanding freedom for Denis Solís. Among them were Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Iliana Hernández, who requested information on the whereabouts of Solís, but were detained while trying to do so," reported FreeMuse, adding that "other members from San Isidro Movement that were detained, though released later in the day, include Anamely Ramos, Maykel Castillo "Osorbo", Oscar Casanella, Jorge Luis Brian, Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho, Esber Rafael, Braulio Hastié and Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna." 

On the following night violence escalated, Cuban university professor and cancer patient Omara Ruiz Urquiola was brutally beaten by a police motorcycle patrolman on November 13th. Video of the attack was broadcast by Telemundo 51, and reached a broader audience.

Due to escalating violence by regime officials, decision was made to take their protests indoors on November 15, 2020 to the San Isidro Movement headquarters with the objective of developing a program of cultural activities in pursuit of the freedom of Denis Solís González. 

Oscar Casanella analyzes the liquid thrown into the headquarters. (Movimiento San Isidro)

Regime response was to send political police to lay siege, limit their right to movement, and poisoning their water supply in the cistern.  Officials threatened neighbors, restricted access to the block, detained family and friends of gathered activists. On November 18, 2020 they blocked neighbors from bringing them food and cleaning supplies. This led to the start of hunger and hunger and thirst strikes at 3:00 pm.

The hunger and thirst strike was imposed upon them. According to University professor Anamely Ramos González, the "decision was also a survival measure for Omara Ruiz Urquiola, because when we counted the food that was left, we realized that it was not enough for everyone." 

Activists under siege at the Isidro Movement headquarters in Havana, Cuba

Initiating the hunger and thirst strike were Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Esteban Rodríguez, Maykel Castillo and Humberto Mena, and starting the hunger strike were Iliana Hernández, Yasser Castellanos, Adrián Rubio, Oscar Casanella and Osmani Pardo.

Officials responded with a violent escalation. On November 22, 2020 at 12:17am the San Isidro Movement tweeted that their headquarters had been attacked: "An unidentified man broke the door of the headquarters and injured Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in the face with a hammer. State security and uniformed police who were present did nothing to prevent the attack."

The Washington Post's editorial board on November 28, 2020 addressed what happened on November 26, 2020 at approximately at 8:00pm:

CUBA’S POLICE broke down the door of an artists’ collective in Old Havana on Thursday night and detained about 14 people, several of whom were on a hunger strike. Most were later released, but the raid showed just how uneasy the Cuban government is with even a hint of protest or whisper of dissent. Art must run free, but in Cuba it must obey.

The raid was directed at the San Isidro Movement, a loose collection of creative types made up of “ghetto rappers, design professors, dissident poets, art specialists, scientists and regular citizens,” as writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez, a contributor to The Post, described it.

 On November 27, 2020 the independent publication Diario de Cuba pieced together different videos surrounding government raid on the San Isidro headquarters the day before and posted them edited together into one video

Regime officials claimed that the raid was due to concerns over COVID-19, but the individuals dressed like doctors did not behave like doctors, and the crowd gathered outside to shout revolutionary slogans, did not wear mask coverings, did not accord with pandemic protocols. Nor did returning the bulk of the San Isidro activists to their homes within hours of their detention. The last of the San Isidro hunger strikers, Maykel Castillo, ended his strike on November 30, 2020.  

The Castro regime ended up with a much larger problem than 14 protesters in a small space in the San Isidro neighborhood in Havana. Young people, mostly artists and academics, began gathering throughout the day of November 27th outside the Ministry of Culture. 

Outside the Ministry of Culture on 27N

Their numbers continued growing into the evening demanding the Minister meet with protesters to negotiate terms for a dialogue. 
Thirty representatives, elected by the hundreds gathered, went in and met with officials. 

They emerged with a commitment to dialogue and to consider the points raised by the protesters. Meanwhile the dictatorship sent truckloads of plainclothes security to surround the demonstrators, and to intimidate them. They also closed off the path to the Ministry of Culture, and began using tear gas and physical force to prevent others from continuing to join the protesters. Instead of following through with a dialogue to resolve the differences that had generated the protests the regime launched a media assault against the San Isidro Movement against the protesters. The autocracy in Havana has reason to be concerned. International media coverage has reported on the protest, and their demands raised on November 27th. 

Young Cubans gathered outside the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020

The Wall Street Journal on November 30, 2020 in the article "Cuban Leadership Confronts a Rare Dissident Movement" shared protesters demands. “We demand the right to have rights…The right of free expression, of free creation, the right to dissent,” said Katherine Bisquet, a young poet, reading the activists’ manifesto by the light of cellphones outside of the ministry where streetlights were turned off. Videos posted on social media showed Ms. Bisquet saying that she spoke for all Cuban citizens."

Officials were prepared for a major crackdown, but opted for a negotiated solution to avoid the spectacle, but then reneged. Reuters reported that "[t]he protest ended before dawn on Saturday only after officials met with 30 of the demonstrators and agreed to continue talking and to urgently review the case of a detained member of the San Isidro crew and a rapper sentenced this month to eight months in jail on charges of contempt. It also agreed to ensure independent artists in the future were not harassed."

This marked the formation of a new movement, 27N to complement the San Isidro Movement and they are observing their one year anniversary with a series of activities

This sustained, spontaneous, nonviolent, hours long protest, one year ago today, in response to the crackdown on the San Isidro Movement, and the preceding 14 days of protest by San Isidro artivists would have long term ramifications for Cuba.

*Original text: "Puede ser que me metan a la celda por el peso de mi voz, pero necesité el valor para decir la verdad"- Denis Solís González, Sociedad Condenada." (Fuente: Movimiento Isidro) 

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