And the Spark Ignited…

Artists gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana demanding that the Cuban government open a dialog. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 28 November 2020 – Sometimes in the dark, or with only the beams of mobile phones lighting their faces, hundreds of artists have planted themselves in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana, until the early morning hours this Saturday. The peaceful protest marks a necessary precedent with unpredictable consequences in a Cuba where many are used to the fact that “nothing happens” and “everything is controlled from above,” or “a leaf does not move without the Government ordering it.”

The arrest of the rebellious rapper Denís Solís, the hunger strike of several activists of the San Isidro Movement and the violent entry into the headquarters of this independent group, last Thursday night, were the triggers for this concentration of filmmakers, visual artists, musicians and all kinds of creators in front of the mansion on Calle 2 in El Vedado, but the ferment of that demonstration had been accumulating for decades.

What happened is the result of more than half a century of trying to subordinate art to ideology without accepting nuances; years of parametración (parameterization), censorship, purges, the Five Grey Years, perks in exchange for silence, forced exile of so many creators, scissors pruning names in publishing houses, stages and galleries. This 27th of November 2020, all that accumulated magma — which at various times has caused the occasional small eruption or spark — overflowed in a public act, with a large presence and in front of one of the most feared of Cuban institutions.

Unlike 2007, when the cultural authorities and the guardians of the intelligentsia managed to channel the «Little War of emails» to a meeting — with a limited number of participants — at the Casa de las Américas, this Friday the protesting artists had the good sense not to be divided and not to accept the official proposal that only 40 of them might enter the Llauradó room, clearly a classic in the KGB and Stasi manuals.

Instead, in front of the high gate of the ministry, a democratic, plural and diverse government was created in a moment that allowed each union to elect its representatives, thirty people in whom to entrust their demands to be expressed in front of Vice Minister Fernando Rojas, because – of course – the minister himself never appeared, something inexplicable on an island where from any point of the geography you can reach Havana in less than 12 hours if you travel by car and in less than three if you go by plane.

The sequence of what happened on Friday was almost cinematic: it began with the arrival of the first people in front of the ministry around eleven o’clock in the morning, almost «four cats*» – as the official propaganda likes to repeat so often to insult their critics. Then came the hackneyed justification from an employee that the head of the sector, Alpidio Alonso, was not available to see them and that functioned like fuel thrown onto the fire. And then it continued with more and more artists coming to the site to demand a dialogue with the cultural authorities.

The scene was completed with an extensive police operation in the vicinity, the prohibition of passage face by several artists and activists who tried to approach, as well as an unjustified violent incident against a group that was on their way over and was tear gassed by a body of uniformed men who, surely, were not acting on their own but were responding to orders issued from some air-conditioned office.

By the early morning and after the meeting with Rojas, the representatives came out to recount the agreements reached. Results that raised applause but have also generated criticism, a necessary and expected diatribe if it is about planting the seed of a plural and democratic country. While some believe that they grabbed from the powers-that-be the conquest of reviewing their repressive procedures and allowing great freedoms in the art scene, others warmed that if could be a maneuver of distraction.

Everything is possible, because something like this has never happened in this way, in these dimensions and much less in a context similar to this. With a country plunged into the deepest economic crisis ever experienced by many of the young people who met yesterday before the Ministry of Culture; with the historic generation – which has had the island in its fist for more than 60 years – dying without glory nor legacy; and with a society tired of the shortages and dreaming of suitcases, flights and emigration… no one can predict if yesterday’s agreements are «a lot» or «a little.»

What will happen going forward? Some who have experienced previous disappointments predict that the Ministry of Culture will not comply with the agreement, the official propaganda will intensify its attacks against the San Isidro Movement and will raise a wave of supposed demonstrations in favor of the regime throughout the island. Those who previously experienced the seesaw of illusion and frustration with events of this type, predict calls from State Security to each of the most visible heads of the protest.

Separately, in an interrogation office in Villa Marista – the grim prison in Havana where State Security confines its political prisoners – with a mixture of threats and promises, they will most likely be able to make someone retract or at least walk away from any similar action that occurs in the future. The media controlled by the Communist Party will publish statements by artists faithful to the Party who tell of the «enormous support and freedom» that the Ministry of Culture offers them for their creation and some part of those who expressed the demands will go to another country to do a doctorate, create a family and forget the island they left behind.

All this can happen and much more, but it is better to opt for the film in which the events on Second Street give way to new situations, regenerating hope and constituting the embryo of the change that so many of us wish for our country. A change that is promoted not from violence but from the peaceful demands of people who create, love and dialogue. I choose that script, because the other I have already seen in an endless movie my whole life.

*Translator’s note: An insult, as in the phrase “four paid cats [implying paid by foreign governments, mafiosos, enemies, etc.] are not going to bring down the government.”

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