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011. movimiento san isidro: cuban artists speak up - transcript

Fryda: [00:00:00] We are an open diverse community, mostly composed of young artists and intellectuals

Carmen: [00:00:07] We came together by chance and are united in our desire to create a more dignified and just country for all Cubans.

Fryda: [00:00:15] We want a country that is inclusive, democratic, sovereign, prosperous, equitable, and transnational. We are not enemies.

Carmen: [00:00:24] We are Cubans who dream of a better Cuba to bequeath to our children on behalf of everyone and for the good of all. We are a civic organization or movement rather than a political party.

Fryda: [00:00:35] We rely on artistic creation and intellectual work as our main tools.

Carmen: [00:00:40] We do not act in secret because we are not doing anything illegal. We make our ideas visible in our digital platforms.

Fryda: [00:00:47] We do not accept discriminatory statements that promote political hatred or that undermine the rights and freedoms defended by our community.

Carmen: [00:00:55] Want a nation where expressing oneself freely is not an act of bravery and defiance, but a natural consequence of independent thought.

Fryda: [00:01:14] Hey, Carmen.

Carmen: [00:01:15] Hey Fryda.

Fryda: [00:01:16] That was the 27N manifesto.

Carmen: [00:01:21] Yes, it was. And today we're going to tell you all about where that comes from, who is involved, why they want all of this and when it all started and where we're at now.

Fryda: [00:01:33] Carmen, we were originally going to make this a bonus episode.

Carmen: [00:01:39] That was really dumb. We were thinking, oh, oh yeah. We'll just explain it really quick, but okay. Why were we initially thinking this would be a bonus episode and not an actual full fledged episode, the way we're making it now?

Fryda: [00:01:51] we felt initially that this is the most current event thing happening in the sphere of Cuba. It's constantly evolving. We are not a current events podcast. And so we thought, okay, we'd give the play by play of what happened in San Isidro, then we can keep going and talk about the state of artistry in Cuba. But gosh, there was no way to do that without getting into the intricacies of this movement and also like, we have a platform. So I'm thrilled to be able to use it, to talk about struggles that are going on in Cuba today,

Carmen: [00:02:29] throwing it back to something that Asiel said in our interview previously, the Cuba he envisions is a Cuba that has been consolidated and that begins with bridging the gaps between all the different communities that exist and to not talk about this would be a disservice to that dream, which I think is one that we can all sort of get behind regardless of what you think the path to that place is.

And another thing is that there are so many players in this stage that are really important that I think that we should be talking about when it comes to describing the Cuba that exists currently, because this is the Cuba that we're engaging with.

Fryda: [00:03:08] Let's take a step back. And let's talk about the context and what it's like to live in Cuba right now.

Carmen: [00:03:16] So as of today, that is May 12th, 2021, when we are recording this. We know that Cuba is under some pretty extensive and lengthy lockdowns that started because of COVID last year in 2020, we know that due to this, a lot of their economy has suffered and we are seeing Cuba enter into a sort of Periodo Especial part two.

And another thing that's going on right now that we've never seen before in the history of Cuba is an increased access to the internet. And not only that, but actual recording devices more and more people have smartphones that can record videos, which is a quintessential part of this whole story.

Fryda: [00:04:04] For all of these points. For this trifecta of a pandemic, periodo especial, and internet, we would highly recommend revisiting season one of teikirisi.

Carmen: Hey, shameless plug

Fryda: Actually, pretty shameless. But our episode one, Oigo, goes into the state of the internet in Cuba, episode three, we talk about what is the periodo especial and what it means for us to be in another special period right now.

Carmen: [00:04:34] Isn't it crazy how this entire podcast and this entire idea started with the concept of the internet. And here we are.

Fryda: [00:04:42] Here we absolutely are with a movement emerging, alongside greater access to internet, but also in the midst of repression, continued government overreach, the lack of free speech and more, and this creates a bubbling cauldron for conditions in Cuba.

And so we're going to start by introducing you to the Movimiento San Isidro if you haven't heard of them already. So the Movimiento San Isidro and this is the San Isidro Movement.

Carmen: [00:05:11] Movimiento San Isidro is a movement that was started in a neighborhood in la habana called San Isidro. And it was basically a group of artists who were protesting government censorship.

Fryda: [00:05:25] This group of artists, they were working in their community, teaching kids art, they were also making art and whether or not the art that they made was Political, and we can always get into that or whether it was resisting the current regime, they were still considered unapproved artists in Cuba. When you work in almost any profession, artistry, sports.Anything you have to be approved by an entity in Cuba, unless you are explicitly approved by the government to be an artist and make art. You are unapproved. Okay.

Carmen: [00:06:03] In 2018, the new president, Miguel Diaz Canel signed a decree that basically made it A crime to create art without prior approval By the ministry of culture,

Fryda: [00:06:20] this decree is called decree 349. There was a period of time between when the decree was announced and when it was effective, where Artists really started protesting in response to it. Amnesty international noted that there were many arbitrary detentions of the people protesting it

Carmen: [00:06:43] in august, 2019. The Movimiento San Isidro artists called for Cubans to wear the Cuban national flag on their shoulders and then post onto the internet with the hashtag la bandera pertenece a todos.

Fryda: [00:06:55] The flag belongs to everyone.

Carmen: [00:06:57] This was in direct response to the arrest of one of the key figures of this whole movement up to this date, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara.

Fryda: [00:07:08] the amount of times that all of these people have gotten arrested is astronomical. Carmen and I have been doing this research and we've of course stumbled upon countless times when this person gets arrested, that person gets arrested. This other person gets arrested

Carmen: [00:07:26] over the course of two years, one individual can be arrested hundreds of times, let that sink in the government has been coming in and arresting people and detaining them and apprehending them X, Y, and Z since 2018 with no trial, with no reason just for, for making art that, that wasn't approved prior by the ministry of culture, because now that's illegal.

Fryda: [00:07:48] So there's Detentions happening all over the place and there's these and other folks continuing to resist in response. And so imagine someone gets arrested and then you have an art protest, but then you get arrested because you're doing the art protest. It's it's just like resistance on resistance.

Carmen: [00:08:10] Yeah. It's a chain reaction.

Fryda: [00:08:12] And there's a pivotal moment. There's actually a pivotal arrest. On November 9th, 2020, Afro-Cuban rapper, Dennis Solis was arrested. And here's the thing. The entire arrest was live streamed on Facebook. yes. And so not only do we have a full recording of what happened and how it happened?It was live, it was on social media and there could be. International response if people want to. So this rapper was arrested and then sentenced to eight months in prison,

Carmen: [00:08:51] just two days after getting arrested, by the way, did they have a trial? Who knows? I don't know. I don't think so.

Fryda: [00:08:56] Oh, well we know what they said he did wrong. It's called. Contempt

Carmen: [00:09:01] quote, unquote

Fryda: [00:09:04] in response to not just an arrest, but to a prison sentence that is extraordinarily long for whatever this contempt was. Members of the san isidro movement. Of course they responded. They had hunger strikes in an apartment in san isidro. hunger strikes Are very common in the entire history of like Cuban resistance and Cuban protest culture.

When the state controls you so much, one of the few things you have control over is whether you, you know, is your own sometimes a bit of your own body. You can threaten to basically starve yourself to death. And that is. An act of protest that someone might respond to the threat of your life.

Carmen: [00:09:50] so this isn't just led by and engaged by artists.It's artists, poets, LGBTQ activists, academics, independent journalists, all of these people, it's many people who are marginalized and many people who are out there trying to speak their truths. These hunger strikes, they go on until November 26, when government agents dressed in medical gowns. Broke through the apartment door and basically gave the excuse that one of the protesting and MSI, or movimiento san isidro, we're going to abbreviate it. One of the MSI members had broken COVID-19 protocols, because again, this is all happening during COVID times under that ruse, they were able to make these arrests.

Fryda: [00:10:34] Yes, here's the other stinger. The arrest were recorded on cell phones and okay. Posted on social media. Interestingly, like after the raid, there were reports in Cuba, all over the country that Facebook, YouTube, Instagram went down. Speaking of ruses, the government just said we often lose connection. And so this is just one of those other coincidental when we lose connection. Yeah. Yeah. Just another apagon..

Carmen: [00:11:05] So that was on November 26 and on November 27th. Which is the night of a group of 300 protestors demonstrated outside the ministry of culture to demand a meeting with the vice minister,

Fryda: [00:11:21] Carmen and I spoke to an independent artist that was invited to this meeting who said that they talked about demands. They talked about things they wanted changed in the relationship between artists and the ministry of culture. And yet. The government backtracked on all of the agreements and they proceeded to apparently harass and threaten one of the artists, Tania Bruguera, and then afterwards bad mouthed, the people of the san isidro movement and other folks who attended the 27 N protest. So 27 N, As in 27 of November, 27 ene, has since become the name of a movement. The movement has a manifesto,

Carmen: [00:12:10] which is the opening of this episode.

So I'm going to read tweets right now, just so that you have some context for how the government is choosing to present.

Fryda: [00:12:17] This president of this country is out here tweeting about these guys.

I don't know. That reminds me of someone.

Carmen: [00:12:27] Oh man.

He who shall not be named.

On November 29th, 2020 Miguel Diaz Canel Bermudez announced on Twitter, “those who planned the San Isidro farce have wrongly chosen the country, the history and the police force. We accept no intrusion controls or hassles. Our people has moral and pluck to fight for Cuba and a picture, a pixelated blurry picture of the Cuban flag.

Another tweet,

Fryda: [00:12:58] strong tweet, man

Carmen: [00:13:00] on also November 29th, 2020, Miguel Diaz Canel Bermudez, on Twitter, the San Isidro farce. There is no invention when talking about links and contacts between the san isidro movement and the USA officials caring for them and supplying their headquarters.

Fryda: [00:13:19] He's falling back on some overused. Justifications overused, like tropes and messaging that the Cuban. Government has relied on for a very, very long time.

Carmen: [00:13:33] This is entirely disrespectful. Like how dare you undermine the people that are raising their voices to advocate for positive change and freedom of expression. And then you go and turn around and you blame the U S which is probably in a corner, literally being like, huh?

Fryda: [00:13:46] It's interesting to be able to smooth over some actual unrest, some actual injustices happening inside your country by talking about outside invasive forces. And this is rhetoric that does work here. He goes making this about something entirely different from what it is a problem that is internal. The problem is inside of Cuba.

And there have been many, many face offs. Now, now it's not just singular arrests, singular detentions or more so smaller acts of protest for 300 people to gather in Cuba in protest of something. I feel like that's huge. And so. What are the various consequences of struggling with the Cuban state of protests there's censorship.

Carmen: [00:14:36] And when we're talking about censorship, that can take form in many different ways. One of them is in the case of , they literally came, busted into his apartment or his house took his paintings and took his works. They literally confiscated them,

Fryda: [00:14:54] but you could be. Placed on a blacklist. And so the Cuban government can call you what Diaz-Canel, the president called them, which is basically an operative or a counterrevolutionary and being deemed something like this in Cuba is blacklisted, not just as an artist, but also as a human being.

And so that justifies what greater state surveillance. One thing that happened to Luis, Manuel Otero Alcantara, is after being returned from from detention and placed under house arrest. They also placed a camera right in front of his apartment. And That camera was there to watch his every move. And it was perfectly pointed towards his room.

And of course there was actual state police walking by and checking in all times something that, uh, that he did, that was really beautiful. And I remember following it, he created a couple of pieces where he drew the surveillance camera that looked at him. And adorned that camera with flowers, the Cuban flag and other things too.

And so that was his act of resistance while being surveilled.

Carmen: [00:16:13] I actually read in reports from Amnesty International that marked police cars are often seen parked outside street corners of activist homes. In other cases, there are plain clothes individuals. That activists believe are actually state security officials are seen in the neighborhood as well.

And even worse than that, activists are not allowed to leave or step foot outside of their house. There's a case reported of this one woman who actually left her apartment. God knows what to do something mundane. And she was immediately apprehended and driven around the city for 12 hours with no information given to her about what they were doing with her or where they were taking her. And then she was dropped back off.

Fryda: [00:17:00] There's also kind of like a space in between. Arrest and detention where you ended up kind of just being carried away for extended periods of time. And a lot of times what it, how it has ended up manifesting on social media as Carmen. And I know it is, there's like these hashtags, like where is blah, blah, blah.

Like, where did this person go? Like last seen on blah, blah, blah, because. There are so many instances of people being apprehended. And who knows if they're being driven around for 12 hours or something else, if you did listen to episode four of season one, we talk about something called un acto de repudio. And they're repudiation acts they've existed for a very, very long time in Cuba and the government or the local institutions can call for a repudiation act to be done on someone who has done something shameful.

And so something that has happened to MSI members is that they've been victims of Actos de repudio. In one case the Cuban government released one of the artist's phone number. To encourage harassment of her. And in some other cases, people have been beat up by their own community. We have seen reports on social media of victims with bruises, sharing their bruises and saying.

This happened to me because of an or because I was beaten up by my own neighborhood or people who came to beat me up. And so that's kind of another layer of community and state sanctioned acts of violence and acts of harassment against these people.

Carmen: [00:18:51] And if that wasn't bad enough, we have also seen allegations of poisoning of the neighborhood water and animals.

Fryda: [00:19:00] So some of these reports or some of these consequences that we talk about, we know of, because they've been reported on by news, but many of them we know of them because they've been self-reported and retweeted on Twitter. And so, uh, again, social media as a big, a way of consolidating the movement and consolidating all of the things that are happening in response to this.

Carmen: [00:19:30] Speaking of responses to all of this in February, 2021. Yeah. Battery that came out. The music video. If you haven't watched it, go watch it. It's on YouTube. It's amazing. got together, made a song basically about the state of things about the music video directed by Asiel Babastro, which we also interviewed, marries a lot of these clips that we're talking about that were published on social media, on Twitter, on Instagram and footage, that was actually shot in between these.

Half of them are in the U S and half of them are in Cuba and it was a whole thing. And somehow they were able to deal with getting all of that together to make a video, to raise awareness about the issue and to also make a statement that they are also in support of. Movimiento you see though?

Fryda: [00:20:22] Louis was in the music video. He was in Cuba with Maykel and el Funky and the three of them recorded the cube apart. And in that video, you'll see Louis Manuel wearing a Cuban flag over his body. And so there's a lot of like references to the entire movement. And then. Lastly, the actual title patria y vida which we've mentioned before, but really we want to keep hammering this in case it’s your first time listening to this, but it means Homeland and life.

And it is a very joyful response to Homeland or death, which is the motto of like the Cuban revolution. And so this is another artistic product, artistic collaboration that lends support to this movement. So this video is definitely something that was loved, is loved in Cuba and outside of Cuba. in the video, yotuel is bare chested and has the words, patria y vida written in white paint on his chest in response to this not only do you see patria y vida hashtags all over social media, but you see Cubans Cuban-Americans Cuban anythings painting by patria y vida on their chest, taking photos, painting patria y vida over buildings, and more, it Is an Anthem and it's also something that's enough of a threat that the Cuban state released a response video.

It was called... Well, like I say, I don't even know. It's fine.

Carmen: [00:22:18] Who cares

Fryda: [00:22:19] anyway, we're not going to because you know what, we forgot it and we're okay with that. We don't okay. The reason why I don't really want any more clicks. Okay.

Carmen: [00:22:26] I don't want to give them any more attention. We just want to tell you that that happened. And we want to move on. these big name artists making this big music video about this actually led to International attention. So suddenly the artists and also the director were invited internationally to go speak on the situation in cuba.

Fryda: [00:22:50] They spoke at the European union and Asiel actually spoke about racism in Cuba, and there was support from, uh, European entities or European heads of state. Around what was going on in Cuba. in the United States, there was a congressional act in support of this movement. There were and are stirrings in the international sphere around what is happening in Cuba since then, things aren't getting better in Cuba.

Carmen: [00:23:21] No, they're not

Fryda: [00:23:23] in April of 2021, which is just a couple of weeks ago. Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara the government. Confiscates his artwork. And he goes on a hunger and thirst strike. It lasted a while, a hunger and thirst strike for seven days. We remember both of us when w. When we were scared that he might be in such a frail condition, that he could pass his demands for his hunger and thirst strike, where to return his art, to give them compensation and to give them freedom to express himself and to end the police harassment, which has been honestly, as we've said it nonstop and for a while, hashtag SOS Cuba, and yeah, the hashtag SOS Cuba came out of that situation.

So the government finally came to his house and. Forcibly took him to a hospital. And as of May 12th, which is today, he's still in a hospital and no one's been able to see him officially.

Carmen: [00:24:28] The health department of Cuba said that the hospital had found no signs of malnutrition or other chemical imbalances.

And that Luis Manuel had been admitted and was in stable condition and was being attended to by physicians. That's been the official statement. I don't really know how you don't eat or drink for seven days and then you're like somehow fine, but okay. Whatever. Sure.

Fryda: [00:24:53] This is speculative, but all over social media, people have snuck photos of any time that Luis Manuel is taken out on a walk in the hospital.

And people all over the internet are asking why he has constant surveillance. He hasn't come out and spoken. He hasn't had his demands met. So why wouldn't he keep going?

Carmen: [00:25:15] So we have the internet and that has been the, the greatest facilitator of everything that we've been talking about. And the thing is that with the internet, the government can no longer remain the gatekeepers of information between Cuba and the outside world.

And as soon as the outside world is given access to

what's going on in Cuba, obviously this creates more awareness and this creates. A space for Cuba to interact on an international stage from the civilian standpoint, not from the state's perspective,

Fryda: [00:25:48] talking about folks who still have to go to a public wifi center to download data, to then get up to speed.

We're talking about people who pass around the paquete semanal, basically a terabyte of data, but we're still talking about so much more access and visibility that has ever existed in Cuba. So in the midst of police and state violence, this is essential. And we know this queen knows this, being able to record oppressive actions and be able to have awareness of what happens to people who are oppressed is so, so important.

And honestly, one of the many reasons why the George Floyd protests. Were as big as they were is because we had recorded video of unfortunately of George Floyd's death. It is so important for people who are oppressed and who exist in oppressive circumstances to be able to record and share their experiences.

Carmen: [00:26:54] It's not the first time that the Cuban people have organized and it's not even the biggest or the first protest since the revolution, it's only unique in its visibility. And all of this comes full circle because it's led by artists of color hailing from one of Havana's poorest neighborhoods, which by the way, is also deemed a world heritage site.

And it's being led by these people who are using the internet to, to basically call for help.

Fryda: [00:27:17] And we've called it, I believe we've called it a hermit state before, too in the hermit state. That is Cuba. Getting attention globally is important. And part of that usually is getting artists, Cuban artists, Cuban American artists involved and bringing awareness.

Carmen: [00:27:36] And so like people who have platforms or have audiences, people who have power to say, Hey, listen to me because this is what's going on and you should care. And there's not that much of that going on. Hashtag where's Gloria Estefan hashtag where's Pit Bull hashtag where's William Levy, hashtag where’s Literally everybody that's out of Cuba. That's Cuban right now. I don't fucking know mic drop.

Fryda: [00:28:00] Hashtag where’s Ana de Armas hashtag where’s havana uh nanan. Oh yeah.

Carmen: [00:28:04] You know, like, are you going to have a whole song named Havana oh nana?

Fryda: [00:28:10] And this is happening in Havana. Ooh nana.

Carmen: [00:28:12] I would like to see all Cuban artists who care about artistry and who care about their culture. Right. Say something and not stay silent

Fryda: [00:28:23] while there is this sense of urgency. Now the Cuban state has been oppressive for such a long, long time, but that doesn't mean that we should be complacent. About the state of the world in Cuba. And why? Because youth in Cuba are rising up to youth within Cuba and people within Cuba are demanding changes.

There are manifestos. We-- Carmen and I are getting to meet people in Cuba who can see a different world for themselves and who want, and can build something different than what is right now. And we need to feed that, you know, like we need to support that

Carmen: [00:29:07] to me, this is a humanitarian issue. It is not a political issue. I believe strongly that this is not something that we want to be taking sides on. This is a matter of people who. Have the right to be people and have the right to have and enjoy the same rights that the rest of us do.

Fryda: [00:29:25] And then again, in Cuba, I know sometimes elsewhere, everything is political in existing in that system. They're making a political statement, but I think what we're asking for here is that there are otherwise other political divisions that exist in the Cuban-American community. And it's not helpful here. Whatever those beliefs are, the situation in Cuba remains the same and the people within Cuba, let them make their demands, let them ask for what they need and go ahead and be an ally and support like. Solidarity would be nice.

Y con eso, pote las pilas. put the batteries on, put your batteries on

Carmen: [00:30:13] when you need to wake up to go to school and you spent the whole night doing homework and you're tired. And your mom's just like, hello, you're going to be late for school. Ponte las pilas. there you go.

Fryda: [00:30:22] Put your batteries on. It means. Wake up, get going, but it can also mean like wake up as in woke up, you know, like get woketh.

Okay. Folks, like get on it. Right. Listeners. You can see how this relates to this episode. Okay. Because these people sound . And, you know, we need to, should we get some rechargeable, lithium batteries?

Carmen: [00:30:48] That would be great.

Fryda: [00:30:49] And so how do you learn more, more about what's happening and how do you get in touch with people in this movement?

In our show notes, we are going to share the social media profiles and or websites of the Movimiento san isidro and we're also going to try to include other figures and change-makers in the space that you can follow. And you know, take their lead, it's their movement. And so go ahead and see what it is that they want from you.

Go do it. Most of all of our patrons, Jesse, Kelis, Yvette, Josh, Daniel, Jason, Karena, Suli, Sarah, Kristen, Amaury, Kayleigh, Lauren, Katherine, Salia, Susan, Jose, Ryan, Andy, Derek, Dee, Christine. Thank you for supporting us. We love you all so, so much. You know where to find us on social media.

It's @teikirisipod. And if you'd like to shoot us an email, So see around next time, take it easy.

Carmen:[00:31:56] take it easy!

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