Hopes that a group of young independent Cuban cultural figures could have a rare dialogue with the authorities on free speech was dashed after the Communist government vetoed some of them, accusing them of to be American puppets.
“We support dialogue, but without preconditions or blackmail,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel said on Twitter. “We will not legitimize those who are helped by the United States to harm Cuba.”
The Havana government promised the talks while negotiating the end of a unusual public demonstration by around 300, mostly young artists, writers and supporters outside the Ministry of Culture on November 27.
This group was protesting against a repression by the authorities of the San Isidro movement of artists and dissident activists, which often stages acts of provocation that escape the authorities. The dissent comes at a time of severe economic crisis, with food and fuel shortages exacerbated by the tightening of U.S. sanctions.
Representatives of what has been dubbed “the applause revolution” said that barely returned home after the protest, state media began to label them as an American conspiracy. They added that the security forces continued to harass and temporarily detain activists.
The Cuban government said political agitators aligned with the United States had hijacked what was supposed to be a discussion about how to improve access for young artists.
“We will not meet people who have direct contact and who receive funds, logistical support and propaganda support from the United States government and its officials. Nor with media funded by US federal agencies, ”the Culture Department said on Friday after receiving from the artists a list of non-negotiable participants for the dialogue that included members of the movement and independent media.
Nonetheless, the debate over free speech in an era of strict US sanctions continues to resonate throughout Cuba and the Diaspora beyond, fueled by social media, especially among young people.
Paul Hare, a former UK ambassador to Cuba who lectures at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, said there has long been an undercurrent of intellectuals and scholars. artists who reacted to the repressive measures but who ceased to form a larger political movement.
“Now the protesters have for the first time, under such circumstances, access to social media,” he said. “This is now being exploited by other elements who see that a protest can grow. The government must therefore now face broader expressions of frustration and, so far, has fallen back on the old scapegoat of US imperialism.
Artists and their supporters have so far been unable to return to the streets to advocate for their cause, although they have kept the issue of free speech alive on social media.
They also started a petition with their original demands. He now begins by asserting that there can be no freedom of artistic expression without political freedom and calls for the “right to political freedom which allows us to build a truly inclusive and democratic nation”, a non-starter in the Caribbean island ruled by communists.
The sit-in outside the Culture Ministry last month only ended after a four-hour discussion between officials and representatives of the crowd who applauded every 15 minutes to show support.
Negotiators reached a deal for an urgent review of a jailed rapper’s case, ongoing discussions over their complaints about policy in various arts sectors set to begin within the week, and a guarantee that independent artists would not be harassed by the police.
Hours later, the government called the island’s top US diplomat, affairs manager Timothy Zúñiga-Brown, for a reprimand for “serious interference in the internal affairs of Cuba.” State TV also aired a 90-minute special attacking the rapper and other dissident artists, showing footage of them along with US diplomats and Miami exiles.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel then appeared at a rally of young people supporting the government where he referred to Fidel Castro’s famous declaration to intellectuals in 1961, “in the Revolution everything, outside the Revolution nothing” and accused an attempt smooth coup.