Cuban authorities arrested dissidents, independent journalists and a well-known artist Tuesday in an apparent attempt to block a rally in Havana’s revolutionary square organized by a new movement that calls itself #YoTambienExijo (I also demand).
Among those detained were journalist Reinaldo Escobar, editor of the online 14ymedio publication and husband of prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez; Eliecer Ávila, an activist; and Antonio Rodiles, who directs a human rights group called Estado de Sats. Sánchez, who founded 14ymedio, reported the arrests on Twitter.
Sánchez said she was placed under house arrest and also reported that several other 14ymedio contributors were visited by State Security officers and warned not to cover the event, which was scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. at the Plaza de la Revolución.
The demonstration called for participants to go before a microphone for one minute to share their thoughts, concerns or ideas about how Cuba’s future should unfold.
Several opponents and independent journalists said they received fake text messages saying the event had been canceled.
The rally was promoted on social media after the Dec. 17 announcement of renewed diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana. Hundreds of people said they planned to attend even though Cuban authorities denied permission to organizers, headed by prominent Cuban artist Tania Bruguera.
Bruguera’s sister Deborah, citing sources in Havana, said Bruguera was arrested at her home at 10 a.m. “after having State Security agents knock on the front door of her residence for five consecutive hours.”
Bruguera was then taken to the headquarters of the Cuban Intelligence Service, Deborah Bruguera said.
“Her family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues from the art world, and citizens are extremely worried because we don’t know where she’s at right now and what state she’s in. She was not allowed to be accompanied by a lawyer at the time that she was detained, either,” said Deborah Bruguera, who added that “the Cuban government is responsible” for any harm done to her sister.
Bruguera scheduled the performance, which would feature an open microphone format and invite people to discuss the future of Cuba in the symbolic Plaza de la Revolución, for Tuesday at 3 p.m. #YoTambienExigo was in charge of spreading the word about the event and had lost contact with Bruguera early Tuesday.
Bruguera met with Cuba’s National Council of Fine Arts President Ruben del Valle for more than three hours Saturday to try to obtain official permission for the event to no avail.
A posting on the government-controlled website, The Jiribilla, lambasted the #YoTambienExijo rally as “a sham.”
Bruguera, who refers to the event as “performance” art, said the idea came from a letter she wrote to President Barack Obama, Cuban leader Raúl Castro and Pope Francis.
She demanded that all Cubans have a right to stake their claim on the future of the island and also have a right to express their opinions through peaceful demonstrations in favor or against government action without “being punished.”
After Tuesday’s proceedings, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who will visit Cuba in January, condemned the detentions in a message on Twitter and reiterated that freedom of expression “remains core of U.S. policy” on Cuba.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, R-Miami, also posted a message on Twitter to President Barack Obama informing him of the detentions and warning him that “oppression in Cuba will not change as long as the Castro brothers hold power.”
Events demonstrating solidarity with Tania Bruguera were held simultaneously in Miami and New York. Despite the support that the #YoTambienExijo group has found in social media campaigns, its efforts to hold public gatherings involving self-expression have been restrained in a country were most people don’t have access to the Internet.
Bruguera asked Cuba’s National Council for Mixed Media Arts (CNAP) to send information about the event to the media and to the state-run television channel. Her request was denied.
Bruguera, who lives in the United States, has built a career internationally through the creation of political art.
In 2013, she was consulted as an expert in a United Nations report about the right to freedom and freedom of artistic expression.
In an interview with el Nuevo Herald, the artist emphasized the significance of the rally that was to be held in the Plaza.
“Through art, spaces of tolerance that perhaps don’t yet exist in real life can be created and people can experiment with different ways of behaving,” she said.
Cuba art institutions have a different perception of art.
In an official news release on Monday, the CNAP said holding the rally was “unacceptable” and “especially considering the symbolic space, the Plaza de la Revolución, and considering the ample press coverage and the manipulation it has obtained in counterrevolution media outlets.”
The CNAP said that the artist could hold the event in “a cultural institution of prestige in the arena of visual art.”
Since it is “an art related activity,” it said, “that should be it’s natural stage.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter @ngameztorres