Cuban exiles gather in Miami to support activists on the island

Protesters on Saturday backed their Cuban compatriots. Photo by Liban B. Iraola for South Florida Media Network )

A large crowd of Cuban exiles gathered at Versailles restaurant on Calle Ocho Saturday around 2 p.m. to support the San Isidro Movement (MSI), a group of dissident artists and activists on the island. 

Until a police raid three days ago, 14 members of the group were barricaded in the headquarters of the MSI in Havana. Since then, eight of them have been on a hunger strike demanding that Denis Solís, an activist of the movement, be released. The police arrested Solís on November 9 in Havana and his whereabouts are still unknown. 

Rosa María Payá attended the Miami protest on Saturday. She is a Cuban activist for freedom and human rights and the daughter of activist Oswaldo Payá. She took over her father’s activism after he died in 2012. According to Payá, her father was killed by the Cuban regime.

“We are here in solidarity with each and every one of the artists, with each and every one of the activists, with all young men and women that were surrounded by the police and in a hunger strike in the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement [in Havana],” Payá said, “and with the hundreds of young men and women that spent all day yesterday at the Ministry of Culture in Havana demanding rights for all Cubans, demanding that Dennis Solis be freed.”

On November 26, the Cuban artist and activist Anamely Ramos González, released a Youtube Video informing that her fellow activist, Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was in critical condition hunger striking for more than a week. 

Later that night, Cuban police raided the headquarters of MSI and removed those on hunger strike. After a few hours, they were released except for Alcántara and another activist. 

“The life of Alcántara is at risk in the hands of the Cuban dictatorship,” Payá says. “He has been on hunger strike for more than eight days demanding that Solís be released, and now he is at the Fajardo Hospital against his will. We don’t know how he is. We know that the Cuban regime is capable of atrocities, we know that they would kill anyone like they did my father. Today’s demand should be freedom for Luis Manuel and Denis Solís and solidarity with the San Isidro Movement.”

After Castro supporter Edmundo García showed up at the rally around 3 p.m., chaos erupted. The crowd screamed at him ordering him to leave. Police escorted him to his car and he left. 

After that, the police arrested four protesters, including Alexander Otaola, a popular Cuban influencer with over 34,000 subscribers on Youtube. 

The crowd shouted for Otaola to be freed, but the police shoved him into a car and drove him away. 

Miami Police spokeswoman Kenia Fallat told MSN news that five people had been arrested and taken to the station for questioning but later released. No charges were filed. 

After his release, Otaola came back to the rally and addressed the crowd. “Everything was a misunderstanding, everything is okay now,” he said, “It was an uncomfortable situation caused by Edmundo García and the messengers of Communism.”

Indira Gitana holds Cuban flag and asks for release of  Cuban activists detained on the island ( Photo by Liban B. Iraola, SFMN ).

Indira Gitana, a Cuban actress who came to Miami looking for freedom in May 2014, also attended the rally. 

“I am here because I do not want more abuse of power [or] repression of the Cuban people,” she said.

Liban is a journalism student at FIU. He is currently enrolled in a dual program majoring in Broadcast Media and taking graduate Spanish journalism classes. He is hoping to finish his masters in Spanish journalism in the summer of 2022.