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Cuba Up To Old Tricks, A New Crackdown On Dissenting Artists

As the world is distracted by COVID-19 and regional leftists turn a blind eye, the Cuban regime relaunches its secretive practice of civil-society repression.

The government has ratcheted up its pressures on the San Isidro group
The government has ratcheted up its pressures on the San Isidro group
Rubén Chababo*

BUENOS AIRES — A new wave of repression has been unleashed in Cuba and, once again, its victims are the San Isidro artists' collective who have been denouncing the communist regime's arbitrary acts and power abuse for years. This comes at a time of censorship and harassment of all thinking on the island that does not fit in with what is accepted and regulated by the state bureaucracy.

A few months ago as the world was experiencing its first lockdown, news of the arrest in Havana of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara managed to filter out of the island and reach the desks of major newspapers in Europe and Latin America.

A sustained international campaign effectively forced authorities to release him, to avoid international charges that the regime is violating fundamental human rights. However, there were many who warned that Otero's release should not be seen as a welcome turnaround in the regime's hostility to the rights of Cuban citizens. They believed that it would only be a matter of time, within days or weeks, before the regime would turn on dissident groups with the same severity and violence as before.

The government has ratcheted up its pressure.

And they were right. The government has ratcheted up its pressure on the San Isidro group whose members are now confined in an old house in Havana, and on hunger strike to press for the release of their imprisoned colleagues. The villa has been encircled by state security forces who will not let friends or family gain access to those inside.

The tragedy of political and intellectual dissidence in Cuba goes beyond such daily humiliations endured by these artists. It includes the immense loneliness of these dissidents in the face of the state's continuous bullying. In spite of the evidence and reports reaching the progressive camp in Europe and Latin America, there is a refusal to speak out and use their influential voices to break the global wall of indifference to conditions in Cuba. This dogged silence means they prefer to maintain an emotional and ideological loyalty to the Cuban revolution and to leaders who have long ceased to represent the ideals of egalitarian justice in this hemisphere.

As I write this, the San Isidro artists are still holding out against the state's agents but their strength is fading. While this siege continues, we must replicate the international solidarity that successfully got Otero Alcántara out of prison, break the omertá around Cuba and inform more people of what is happening on this island.

By firmly declaring our non-consent to this and any other oppression, we may help to finally put an end to Cuba's persecution of artistic and political dissidence.


*Ruben Chababo is professor of human rights at the National University in Rosario, and academic adviser to the Buenos Aires-based NGO Cadal.

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