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In November last year, artists and activists were trapped in an apartment in Old Havana, surrounded by state police, after attempting a peaceful protest. Several artists staged a hunger strike that gained international attention. (photo by and courtesy of Katherine Bisquet)

A bipartisan group of US Senators has introduced a resolution in support of Cuba’s artists, many of whom are frequent targets of state-sponsored censorship and harassment that has been steadily escalating. The legislation calls for “the repeal of laws that violate freedom of expression and the immediate release of arbitrarily detained artists, journalists, and activists” and expresses solidarity with the San Isidro Movement collective, formed in 2018 to advocate for the rights of artists.

The congressional text denounces Decrees 349 and 370, two regulations proposed in 2018 by the Cuban government that strictly regulate cultural activity and curb freedom of expression on the Internet, respectively. It also demands the immediate release of Denis Solís, a rapper who was sentenced to 8 months in prison for insulting a police officer who entered his home without a warrant last November. 

When members of the San Isidro Movement organized a peaceful demonstration against Solís‘s detainment at a private residence, state police blocked access to the house and confiscated food and supplies, spurring a hunger strike that made headlines around the world. 

During the strike, the resolution says, authorities “allegedly contaminated water sources in order to sicken the artists and activists” and later used tear gas on the approximately 300 people who gathered outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana on November 27. Despite efforts by members of the eponymous 27N Movement to dialogue with Cuban officials, the regime has refused to engage non-violently with activists and has used state-controlled media to label the peaceful demonstrations as treason, “a crime subject to imprisonment and penalty of death.”

More recently, members of the 27N Movement have filed a legal motion for the resignation of Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso, who was captured physically assaulting a journalist in a video circulated widely on social media last month.

S.Res.37 is sponsored by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, regularly voices his opposition to the Cuban government.

“With this resolution, we stand in total solidarity with the courageous artists and activists in Cuba’s San Isidro Movement and join their call for greater respect for freedom of expression and social rights in the island,” Senator Menendez said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic.

“Footage of the regime’s own culture minister physically attacking members of the San Isidro Movement makes one thing clear to the world: The Cuban people are still violently repressed and imprisoned,” he added. “I urge my counterparts in Europe, Canada, and Latin America to join us in shining a light on this reprehensible situation and standing up for democratic values in Cuba.”

The current impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump and ongoing budget negotiations mean the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is unlikely to convene a legislative business meeting to vote on the resolution until next month. A spokesperson for Menendez’s office said the senator would try to push the process as soon as possible.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

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