14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 November 2020 — The arrest of a rapper has led to a hunger strike being waged by several activists, members of a group known as the San Isidro Movement. What began as a meeting of friends showing solidarity and demanding the release of Denis Solís has led to an explosive situation.
What makes the hunger strike of these opponents and independent artists unique? The answer to that question points to the context and not to the use of fasting as a tool for advocacy. In the recent history of Cuba, the body has been frequently used as a civic plaza of demand, in the absence of legal and democratic ways through which citizens can demand rights and denounce injustices. The most dramatic case in recent years is, undoubtedly, that of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February 2010 after 86 days without eating.
But a decade after that preventable death, the political and social context is very different. The country is going through its deepest economic crisis of this century, the authoritarian figure of Fidel Castro is past history, and the officials who have risen to the highest positions in the nation are seen – by most of the population – as a band of useless opportunists. Added to this is the recent opening of stores that sell food and cleaning products but only accept foreign currencies, which has caused a wave of popular outrage at what is seen as “monetary apartheid,” dividing society between those who have dollars and those who do not have dollars.
In this scenario, further aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, a group of young people has decided not to eat to demand that the eight-month prison sentence against a rapper be reversed. In a hasty trial Denis Solís was convicted of the alleged offense of contempt against a police officer. The gesture of solidarity by these activists has stirred consciences and, in recent days, there have been signs of support from various sectors, including those who until very recently did not speak out against the repression against dissidents.
International organizations have asked the island’s authorities to release Solís, one hundred filmmakers have joined in an open letter of support for the San Isidro Movement’s strikers, and social networks are seething with calls to preserve the lives of young people through a dialogue that allows their voices to be heard. But the Plaza of the Revolution seems to have chosen, so far, the path of trying to execute their reputations by calling them “marginals” and creators “without known work,” in addition to surrounding the house that serves as the group’s headquarters with a strict police cordon that prevents access to the strikers by friends or relatives.
Several empty stomachs and a dilapidated house in a poor Havana neighborhood are now the main battle front against a desperate and dangerous system.
This text was originally published in Deutsche Welle for Latin America.
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