‘On Social Media, There Are 1000’s’: In Cuba, Web Fuels Uncommon Protests

What started as anger over the arrests turned into conversations between artists about their frustration with freedom of expression limits on the island. They complained about their fear of government censorship or outright repression because of the art, theater, or films they produce.

“I want to do fine art without State Security parked on my corner,” said Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a performance artist who led the hunger strike last month.

By dusk, hundreds had gathered to spontaneously protest against the government – something that has not been seen in Cuba since the nation plunged into economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Troubadours, artists, playwrights, rappers and reggaetoneras played music, read poetry and sang the national anthem. When the ministry allowed a group of demonstrators to negotiate inside the building, those gathered outside clapped around every 10 minutes to express their support.

Artists have a special seal of approval in Cuba, a deeply patriotic nation that has long been proud of the capabilities of its cultural institutions, even under communism.

And the government may have found it more difficult to directly oppose this particular group of protesters, which included some of the country’s best-known artists. Jorge Perugorría, one of the most famous Cuban actors, and Fernando Pérez, a famous film director, both appeared that evening.

“I will always go where I think my presence can help,” said Pérez, adding that the protests “stem from a great love for Cuba”.

The crowd also attracted younger stars, such as Yunior García, 38, who has worked for state-affiliated institutions throughout his life, writing plays, short films and telenovelas for Cuban television.

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