A surge of Cuban government arrests of artists has taken social media and political activists in Miami by storm.
The outpouring of events and heightened interest comes on the heels of the controversial Nov. 9 arrest of rapper Denis Solís González, who used his cellphone to record a police officer entering his home on the island nation and harassing him.
Solís is heard on video calling the officer a “coward” and openly criticizing former President Raul Castro, all before posting the video on Facebook.
On Nov. 12, Solís was sentenced to 8 months in jail on charges of “contempt.”
The day after the sentencing, Cuban musician Didier Eduardo Almagro was also arrested for his participation in a separate anti-government protest, which was demonstrating against electricity cuts to his neighborhood.
Almagro was sentenced to 3 years in prison on charges of contempt of court and public disorder.
The arrests sparked international attention since both men are members of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of creatives who use art and various forms of public expression to protest authoritarian policies that target independent artists in Cuba.
Among those policies is “Decree 349,” which in 2018 increased the government’s right to censor artists’ works.
During the early morning hours of Nov. 27, Cuban authorities raided the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement and arrested dozens of protestors participating in a hunger strike.
In reaction to the raid, over 150 artists and activists gathered outside the Cuban Ministry of Culture in Havana to protest the arrests.
On Nov. 28, Miami’s Cuban community rallied on Calle Ocho outside Versailles restaurant to display their solidarity with San Isidro and its group members.
The events are very personal to Marissa Daniela, who lived in Cuba for four years as an adult. Her Instagram page MimainCuba, which is five years old and has a following of more than 28,000, posts stories about Cuban American news and politics.
Daniela’s posts about the arrests and rallies have received nearly 40,000 likes and have been repeatedly shared across various social media platforms. Though she said her partner urged her not to speak out, she felt she had to.
“It got to a point where I was like, I cannot keep quiet about this issue. People are asking my opinions about it, why haven’t I said anything about it, and that is why I made the post.”
In Miami, college students have been actively organizing a movement titled “Universitario x San Isidro” to stand in solidarity with the movement and pro-democracy advocates.
The group held a rally on Dec. 3, at the steps of the historic Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami wearing face masks that displayed “Todos Somos San Isidro” (We are all San Isidro).
Among those who attended was Hansel Caudales, a political science major at Georgetown University and contributor to “Universitario x San Isidro.” He grew up in Miami.
“I feel extremely energized, inspired. This has been unprecedented,” said Caudales. “We have never seen anything like this in Cuba. This has been amazing to watch. I can see the end of communism in Cuba or at least the first step.”
Others like Luis Prieto, an alumnus of the Miami-Dade Honors College and lead organizer of “Universitario x San Isidro,” said the SIM movement leaders are who inspire him.
“For the first time, I see leaders in Cuba that might be speaking to me directly as a representation of Cuban youth, Cuban diaspora,” said Prieto. “Someone who understands Cubaness as a way that is prudent and diverse.”
Sebastian Arcos is the associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at FIU. He also served as an advisor on human rights issues in Cuba for the U.S. State Department during the final two years of the Clinton administration.
Arcos said he commends the creativity and collaboration among the artists and intellectuals in Cuba today. It creates, he said, a more popular and accessible movement, a missing component from the previous, more politically centered, pro-democracy efforts.
“This development is very much welcome because it involves a vibrant and essential part of Cuban society, which is the intellectual and artistic sector,” said Arcos. “They have a special connection, a special way to communicate with the people, with the average Cubans.”
He said he credits San Isidro in particular.
“SIM is part of a growing and expanding political opposition in Cuba, and that is always welcomed in Miami and received with notes of hope that the end of the regime is inevitable,” said Arcos. “At least things are moving inside Cuba, which is what everybody believes must take place for the regime to change.”