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A group of 14 artists, musicians, curators, and poets have been trapped at an apartment in Old Havana, surrounded by Cuban state security, for over a week.
The activists were sequestered following a peaceful protest in support of Denis Solís, a young Cuban rapper who received an eight-month prison sentence for insulting a police officer who trespassed his home without a warrant. Held on November 9, the demonstration consisted of collective poetry readings outside the police station where Solís had been arrested. Several of the protesters were detained.
Once released, they moved their activities to the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement activist group, an apartment in Old Havana. Cuban state security proceeded to besiege the artists, cordoning off the apartment block with yellow tape. Members of the group told Amnesty International that they were under 24-hour surveillance and feared they would be detained again if they tried to leave.
Seven of the trapped activists have been on hunger strike for more than 140 hours after police intercepted attempts by a neighbor to drop off food and supplies. Among the strikers are Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a performance artist and organizer of the San Isidro Movement who was arrested earlier this year while on the way to an anti-censorship protest; rapper Maykel Osorbo; activist Esteban Rodríguez; journalist Iliana Hernández; activist Osmani Pardo; and poet Katherine Bisquet.
Alcántara and Castillo’s health is rapidly deteriorating, according to the independent outlet ADN Cuba. Officials have reportedly detained journalists and diplomats who have attempted to enter the apartment. A video released by Movimiento San Isidro shows the state of several of the strikers, many of whom are resting on the floor and provide testimonies in a slow, strained voice.
“At first, we didn’t plan on going on hunger strike,” says one of them, who is not named in the video. “But last Wednesday, we were prohibited from receiving food. As a result, we thought, if the dictatorship won’t allow us to receive food in the apartment, we’re going on hunger strike.”
Abel Prieto, director of the Communist government-backed cultural organization Casa de las Américas, claimed on Twitter that Cuba’s “enemies” were disguising a delinquent charged with contempt as an artist in order to draw international attention.
“The Cuban government is not acting in an usual way in its repression of peaceful protest and its refusal to allow anyone to assist the hunger strikers,” writer and artist Coco Fusco told Hyperallergic.
“According to the protesters and Cubalex (a nonprofit led by Cuban lawyers defending human rights in Cuba), the government is breaking its own laws through the actions of police and state security,” she added. “The utter lack of regard for the well being of its citizens is yet another indication and its obsession with erasing dissent just demonstrates its completely self serving and inhumane priorities.”
A petition demanding Solís’s release has reached more than 1,100 signatures; activists and artists across Latin America and the US, including Tania Bruguera, have joined the call. Another petition is also in circulation, as well as letters submitted to the Ministry of Culture by hundreds of Cuban artists asking that it intercede, according to Fusco.
Several international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have released statements denouncing the Cuban state’s harassment of the activists. A demonstration in solidarity with the activists is scheduled to take place outside the Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami this afternoon.
Solís remains imprisoned at Valle Grande, a maximum-security prison outside Havana.