A mob of communists attacked peaceful supporters of the San Isidro Movement, a pro-democracy artist collective, who gathered in Havana’s Central Park on Sunday to back 15 activists on hunger strike in protest of the arrest of rapper Denis Solís.
The mob chanted “the park is Fidel’s” and physically intimidated the crowd for some time before Cuban state security appeared and arrested at least 18 activists and reporters. The 15 hunger strikers did not attend as the building in which they are staying is reportedly now surrounded by Cuban police, preventing anyone from entering or exiting.
One of those now trapped inside and on hunger strike, Oscar Casanella, accused state security of hurling a container full of a noxious chemical onto the balcony of the building, presumably to hurt them. The strikers were unable to identify the substance.
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State-organized mob attacks against pro-democracy dissidents are common and referred to as actos de repudio (“acts of repudiation”). The mob typically throws projectiles at dissidents, lobs insults (often racist ones as, unlike the Castro regime, most dissidents are Afro-Cubans), and threatens them in an attempt to get them to end their activism. Cuban diplomats have attempted to export actos de repudio to international venues such as the Summit of the Americas and the United Nations.
The head of the San Isidro movement, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, urged Cubans to use public areas like parks to assemble and demand democratic reforms. A small group of dissidents answered the call on Sunday, demanding freedom generally but the release of Solís in particular. Solís was sentenced to eight months in prison in November for desacato, a crime typically translated to “disrespect” or “contempt,” after asking a police officer who had illegally entered his residence to leave.
According to Reuters, over 100 people made up the mob that attacked the pro-democracy assembly, which also threatened and attacked not only local reporters but international journalists with permission from the Castro regime to work. The mob reportedly threatened and assaulted international journalists present attempting to record the protest. Police looked on but did not intervene against the mob, only arresting the peaceful dissidents and local reporters.
“All of the activists and journalists who managed to get to the place were immediately and violently detained by Cuban state security officials,” the independent outlet Cubanet reported. As often occurs in political arrests in Cuba, many of those “state security officials” were not in police attire, confusing activists when they suddenly seized and assaulted them.
While many of those participating in the event were members of the San Isidro Movement — which brings together musicians, visual artists, performance artists, and other creatives to condemn the regime — members of several other major dissident groups participated and were also arrested. Police detained Berta Soler, the head of the Ladies in White movement, and husband and former political prisoner, Ángel Moya. The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the largest dissident group on the island, also lent its support.
The official Twitter page of the San Isidro Movement published the names of 18 people arrested at the scene.
Luz Escobar, a reporter for the independent outlet 14 y Medio, recorded her arrest on Facebook live. Escobar appeared to be broadcasting live at a distance from the violent mob when a uniformed police officer came up to her and asked her to accompany her away from the scene.
“I don’t want to talk to you. I have every right to be in this park. I’m not following you,” Escobar can be heard repeatedly telling the officer.”
The officer replies, “we are the law,” to which Escobar repeatedly states, “I am not following you.” Shortly after, male plain-clothed officers arrive and command Escobar to shut off the phone.
“Well, I’m turning the phone off, they’re arresting me,” Escobar says before the male officer can be heard saying “turn it off or I’m taking it.”
The home where the San Isidro Movement members are currently on hunger strike is at press time reportedly surrounded by Cuban communist agents. Authorities are not letting any other activists, or even members of their families, enter the building, and not letting anyone leave. The home has also suffered several attacks since the hunger strike began last week.
Oscar Casanella, one of the hunger strikers, told the Ibero-American Anti-Communist Bloc, a pan-American coalition against socialist and communist tyranny in the region, that unidentified individuals attacked their headquarters with a chemical substance last week.
“On midnight between Wednesday and Thursday, they hurled a liquid, like a type of chemical, that we don’t know what it is and it smells bad up to the balcony of the headquarters of the movement and in the backyard,” Casanella told the secretary-general of the Ibero-American Bloc, Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat. “It could be a chemical attack against us.”
The Bloc has demanded immediate freedom for Solís, as have several other international organizations, including large global human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
Cubanet documented another attack on the hunger strikers occurring this weekend in which unknown attackers attempted to break down the door of the home with a hammer and hurled glass bottles inside, injuring Otero Alcántara, who is among those on strike.
Denis Solís was arrested in early November after a uniformed police officer entered his home without consent, which is technically illegal in Cuba. Solís recorded the encounter, in which he repeatedly told the officer to leave his home and asserted his right not to consent to police entry into his home without a warrant. The officer claimed that Solís’s living room was a “hallway.” Solís ultimately escalated his rhetoric, insulting Raúl Castro and the officer personally.
“I don’t know if they are planning an abduction right now,” Solís said. “I am ready to die, so you know, he can call his friends and come over. … Fire to communism … [burn it with] fire.”
The NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders, which specialized in political repression cases, issued a statement over the weekend noting that Solís’s video proves that the officer, not Solís, had committed a crime, as he had illegally entered the rapper’s home.
The text of the crime of desacato, the NGO noted, requires the authority being disrespected to be “in the exercise of his functions” or acting “in connection with them.”
“The police officer’s violation of the law makes him the offender of a punishable offense, and at that moment he is not in the exercise of his duties, but rather in violation of them,” the group noted.