Communist regime agents dressed in lab coats violently raided the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, a pro-democracy artistic collective in Havana, late Thursday, attacking a group of dissidents, most of whom have spent over a week on a hunger strike.
The dissidents denounced that they suddenly lost access to social media outlets without using a VPN late Thursday; much of the island of Cuba similarly experienced limits to Internet access while the raid occurred. Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram were reportedly all down during part of Thursday night.
The official newspaper of the Communist Party, Granma, claimed that the raid, which resulted in the overnight arrests of at least eight dissidents, was a “sanitary” operation to remove Carlos Manuel Álvarez, a journalist who had entered the building after traveling to the United States, which allegedly violated Cuba’s Chinese coronavirus lockdown provision. The Castro regime has led one of the world’s most ineffective efforts in slowing the spread of the Chinese coronavirus, initially refusing to shut down schools and asking parents to send children to school with soap. Cuba also initially invited global tourism to the island in the spring, hoping to take advantage of most nations enacting travel restrictions. International flights resumed in Havana in mid-November.
The dissidents in the San Isidro headquarters began a hunger strike in solidarity with one of their members, Denis Solís, sentenced to eight months in prison this month for not allowing a police officer into his home without a warrant. Solís was convicted of the Cuban crime of “disrespect” (desacato).
The late-night raid reportedly began with a large police presence surrounding the building, despite no evidence anyone inside was armed and the fact that most of the people within were on a hunger strike and thus extremely weak. The Spanish publication Diario de Cuba cited one of the dissidents, Yasser Castellanos, explaining the situation in a Facebook Live post after his release and following the return of Internet access.
“As you know, they wanted to get us out of here by any means necessary,” Castellanos explained. “They found the excuse that Carlos Manuel just came back from the United States … something like that there was no guarantee he didn’t have Covid [Chinese coronavirus] so they had to take him away.”
We refused to open the door because we had no reason to do so. … Since we didn’t open it, they opened it with violence. The guy watching from above, Jorgito, said that they kicked it open, it was in very bad condition,” he said. “Then a battalion came in of supposed ‘doctors,’ people with physical preparation, they were gorillas disguised as doctors, to direct us all. It was not a pleasant appearance.”
“They did direct us without violence,” he added. “They were 80 times more nervous than we were.”
In another Facebook Live broadcast from the building, Anamely Ramos, an art curator who joined the San Isidro hunger strike, said the dissidents were “alarmed” because there were over 60 police officers outside the headquarters.
“Right now, almost nobody here has Facebook, looks like they cut it off. I think I’m the only one who has it right now,” she said, broadcasting from the account of Maykel Castillo, one of two dissidents who kept a hunger and thirst strike for over a week before finally drinking water on Wednesday. “There are five people here on hunger strike, two people who are very weak because they were mostly on a hunger and thirst strike.”
“We are scared that they will get tired of this and use violence directly,” Ramos said.
Omara Ruiz Urquiola, a professor and another one of the hunger strikers, described the claim that a raid was necessary to stop the spread of Chinese coronavirus as “completely absurd.” Ruiz Urquiola has struggled with breast cancer for years, often failing to receive adequate treatment because of her status as a dissident. She has also suffered violent arrests while demanding access to health care in a country that often, and falsely, claims to have one of the world’s best socialist healthcare systems.
“There are immunocompromised people here, like me, and we have absolutely no symptoms [of coronavirus],” Ruiz Urquiola said during Ramos’s live broadcast, noting that the Chinese coronavirus has proven much more deadly to people suffering from or having survived cancer. She noted that the “false doctors” who raided the building refused to let any of the dissidents see identification proving they were government doctors.
Castellanos, Ramos, Ruiz Urquiola, and Castillo were all detained and released by Friday morning, along with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the other dissident who held a thirst strike; Katherine Bisquet, Esteban Rodríguez, Iliana Hernández, Niober Alexander “Abu,” and Osmani Pardo. Most of the pro-democracy protesters had kept some key belongings in the building that police raided. On Friday, Ramos denounced police officers’ refusal to allow them back in the building.
“There is no justification for what they have done, there is no justification for confiscating our things,” Ramos said. “Even my identification card is there, my mobile phone SIM and other belongings I can’t be without. I don’t even have my house keys.”
The building that police raided is reportedly the home of Otero Alcántara, the head of the San Isidro Movement. Diario de Cuba noted on Friday that police are not allowing him back into his own home.
Granma, the government newspaper, justified the raid in an article on Friday applauding authorities for keeping Havana safe from the Chinese coronavirus.
The journalist who traveled to America, Granma claimed:
Adhering to legality and without aggressing against the civil rights of anyone involved, a preventative action was taken corresponding to the necessary interest in protecting the Cuban population from the transmission of the pandemic, as well as preserving the life of those with direct contact with Álvarez Rodríguez.
Alongside the brief report on the raid, Granma published an article calling Solís, the dissident whose arrest prompted the hunger strikes, a terrorist with ties to alleged American terrorist organizations. The hunger strikes, the government propaganda outlet claimed, were a “new counter-revolutionary show patronized and supported by the American government.” It also attempted to identify Otero Alcántara, the head of the group, as a criminal for having allegedly spoken kindly of some American politicians, without quoting the dissident or explaining how this proves any criminality.
Granma also published a dubious receipt for a tuna meal that it claimed, without evidence, was purchased by the hunger strikers during the strike.
Michel Matos, a spokesman for the San Isidro Movement, predicted potential imminent harm for the group in an interview this week with Breitbart News, urging Hollywood artists to stand with peers in Havana who, for merely thinking freely, are branded “an enemy in every sense of the word.”
An artist who does not use his work to praise the Castro regime, Matos explained, endures severe repression. They “know absolutely everything about your life, listen in to your communications, besiege you, leave you trapped in your home, shuts off your electricity, cut off your phone,” Matos said, “[and] conduct a series of blackmail operations on your personal life because they have a certain information dominance over that.”
“You become a sort of non-person, totally ostracized, and you also can’t leave the island,” he lamented.