Peaceful proponents of the San Isidro Movement, a pro-democracy organization for artists, rallied in Havana’s Central Park in Cuba on Sunday before colliding with a violent mob of communists, according to Breitbart News.
The demonstrators gathered to support 15 activists on a hunger strike as a protest against the arrest of rapper Denis Solís.
The throng of leftists chanted, “The park is Fidel’s” and physically accosted the crowd before Cuban state security surfaced and arrested at least 18 activists as well as members of the press. The 15 people participating in the hunger strike did not make an appearance due to the building where they are staying now being closely watched by Cuban officials, stopping anyone from coming or going.
One of the people confined inside and on the hunger strike, Oscar Casanella, claimed state security was throwing containers full of harmful chemicals onto the balcony of the building, evidently to cause them injury. The strikers were not able to specifically say what the substance was.
Mob attacks designed by the state against capitalist dissidents are a regular occurrence and called actos de repudio (“acts of repudiation”). The mob will typically attempt to disrupt the demonstrations by hurling projectiles at dissidents, shout racist insults (unlike the mostly white Castro supporters, most dissidents are Afro-Cubans), and threaten them in an effort to bully the people into stopping their demonstrations. Cuban diplomats have tried to export actos de repudio to international establishments, like the Summit of the Americas and the United Nations.
The leader of the San Isidro movement, an artist named Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, advised Cubans to use public places like parks to gather and call for democratic reforms. On Sunday, a modest gathering of objectors claimed to seek freedom in a broad sense, but also the release of Solís specifically. Solís was locked away in a Cuban prison cell for eight months in November for desacato, a crime which commonly translates to “disrespect” or “contempt,” after telling police who had entered his home to go away.
Reuters reports more than 100 people made up the mob that ambushed the pro-democracy gathering and also menaced and assaulted local press as well as international reporters who had approval from the Castro regime to be there. The mob supposedly threatened and assaulted foreign reporters present who were trying to document the protest. Police watched but refused to stop the mob violence, only making arrests on the nonviolent dissidents and local media.
“All of the activists and journalists who managed to get to the place were immediately and violently detained by Cuban state security officials,” reported Cubanet, an independent publication. As is commonplace in political arrests in Cuba, most of the “state security officials” were not in police uniforms, confusing demonstrators when they abruptly seized and attacked them.
Despite most of the people involved in the event being members of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of musicians, visual artists, performance artists, and other creatives who want to work against the regime, other people reportedly from across other well-known dissident groups attended and were also taken by socialist government officials.
Police arrested Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White movement, as well as her husband and former political prisoner, Ángel Moya. The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the strongest dissident group in the country, also supported the protests.
The official Twitter page for the San Isidro Movement posted the identities of 18 people arrested during the demonstration.
Luz Escobar, a journalist for the independent publication 14 y Medio, streamed her arrest on Facebook. Escobar seemed to be livestreaming further away from the mob when a police officer in uniform approached her and demanded she go with them.
“I don’t want to talk to you. I have every right to be in this park. I’m not following you,” Escobar can be heard on video repeatedly saying to the police.
The officer responds by telling her, “we are the law,” to which Escobar tells them, “I am not following you.” Not long after, a man out of uniform arrives and demands Escobar shut her phone off.
“Well, I’m turning the phone off, they’re arresting me,” Escobar tells her followers before the officer can be heard in the clip ordering her to “turn it off or I’m taking it.”
One of the hunger strikers, Casanella, reported to the Ibero-American Anti-Communist Bloc, a pan-American joint effort which challenges socialist and Marxist authoritarianism in parts of the world, that unknown individuals ambushed their headquarters with a chemical toxicant last week.
“On midnight between Wednesday and Thursday, they hurled a liquid, like a type of chemical, that we don’t know what it is and it smells bad up to the balcony of the headquarters of the movement and in the backyard,” Casanella said to the secretary-general of the Ibero-American Bloc, Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat. “It could be a chemical attack against us.”
Denis Solís was taken into custody in November after a plainclothes police officer came into his residence without permission, which is technically not legal in Cuba. Solís recorded the incident, where he told the officer to leave his home several times and argued his right not to acquiescence to police entering his home without proper a warrant. The officer said that Solís’s living room was just a “hallway.” Solís then insulted Raúl Castro and the officer directly.
“I don’t know if they are planning an abduction right now,” Solís said on video. “I am ready to die, so you know, he can call his friends and come over. … Fire to communism … [burn it with] fire.”