Cubans in Havana organized Tuesday in an attempt to engage in a performance art project called “#YoTambienExijo,” or “#ITooDemand,” meant to give a voice to the Cuban people in the upcoming dialogues between Cuba and the United States. Before the performance could occur, however, its organizer, artist Tania Bruguera, disappeared, while a number of prominent dissidents in the capital were detained or placed under house arrest.
The project, scheduled for 3 p.m. in Havana’s Revolution Square, would consist of a single microphone in the center of the plaza, under the Che Guevara memorial. Everyone who desired to speak would be given one minute with the microphone to say whatever they wished, barring profanity. A simultaneous open mic performance would occur before Miami’s Tower of Freedom, unimpeded by American police. While Bruguera requested a permit from the government for use of the public square beforehand, the request was rejected, and Bruguera vowed to put on the performance anyway.
Then, hours before the rally was to start, Bruguera disappeared:
— Yusnaby Pérez (@Yusnaby) December 30, 2014
It was not until later in the night that reports surfaced via family members that Raúl Castro’s secret police had arrived at Bruguera’s home at 5 a.m. on Tuesday and arrested her; reportedly, her family is currently holding her in a secret prison, but few have any solid leads as to where the artist may be at the moment. Diario de Cuba, a Cuba-focused journal based in Spain, reports that state security knocked on Bruguera’s door for five hours straight, until finally being arrested at 10 a.m. According to her sister, Deborah, “The family, friends, acquaintances, artistic colleagues, and citizens, are extremely concerned because we don’t know where she is currently or what state she is in.” Deborah Bruguera confirmed that Tania “was not allowed at the time of her arrest to be accompanied by an attorney.” In addition to Bruguera, known members of the dissident community were arrested to prevent them from attending the event or organizing it in Bruguera’s absence. Among those arrested was Reinaldo Escobar, husband to internationally acclaimed blogger Yoani Sánchez:
Sánchez herself was placed under house arrest after reporting the day before that state security had visited her and her relatives to warn them not to attend the planned performance. Upon being freed, Escobar reported seeing Bruguera in detention, the only confirmed sighting of her since her disappearance. Escobar is a journalist for 14yMedio, Sánchez’s online periodical, and was arrested, along with a number of other contributors to the site.
While there is no official number of arrests made Tuesday, the estimated number is upwards of one dozen, targeted at well-known anti-communist activists. The arrests were such a flagrant violation of basic human rights that The New York Times editorial board, long a friendly venue for the Castros, criticized the regime for acting in a way that could be politically detrimental to President Obama. (Their opinion on the rights of those actually arrested was predictably tepid.)
The United States Department of State responded with a statement, noting that officials were “deeply concerned.”