An alliance of hip-hop musicians, writers, internationally known artists and Black activists has emerged as a driving force against censorship and government repression in Cuba, prompting a rare Communist government action: to hold talks about freedom of expression.
Hundreds of Cubans, many of them young artists from elite schools, protested in front of the country’s stately neoclassical Ministry of Culture in Havana’s upscale Vedado district, overnight on Friday. Protests of any sort are very rare in Cuba.
“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.
The protests—sparked by the violent arrest Thursday of members of a small artists’ collective—were joined by ordinary Cubans as well as some of Cuba’s leading artistic lights, including the influential film director Fernando Pérez and renowned actor Jorge Perugorría. After hours of protests, singing and poetry, the ministry made the unusual move of allowing some 30 protesters inside to discuss their grievances with senior officials. The government considers many of them to be U.S.-financed enemies of Cuba’s revolution.
“We described the fear and harassment that we experience every day, and we told them that we didn’t feel represented by them,” said Aminta D’Cardenas, one of the activists who entered the ministry. “Their response was somewhat cynical. They told us they had no knowledge of what was happening,” she said by telephone from Havana.