In a daring move aimed at testing the limits of Cuba's newly professed openness, a group of Cuban dissidents and intellectuals organized an unauthorized and provocative art performance in Havana's largest public square today.
The event, called #YoTambienExijo, or "I too have demands," was organized by internationally renowned artist Tania Bruguera. The scheduled demonstration was to consist of placing a single microphone in the center of the plaza and inviting people to speak openly on any topic for one minute. The only restriction was that speakers refrain from using profanity.
But the Cuba protest failed to materialize when Bruguera didn't show up. Supporters of Bruguera said she could not be located early Tuesday morning, and The Associated Press reported that Cuban police prevented an AP reporter from approaching the door of her Havana apartment. Ahead of the event, Bruguera told the Miami Herald, "I’ll be [at the plaza]. I’m not going to hide. I’m not doing anything wrong. I am just exercising my citizen rights.”
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, a prominent Cuban dissident and writer, told Fusion at a simultaneous #YoTamibenExijo event in Miami, that he too was unable to reach Bruguera by telephone. "We have many numbers for her, cell phones, land lines, but no one can get in touch with her," he said.
Cuba's best-known dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez, reported that police had been warning bloggers to not attend the event in Havana. Hours before it was scheduled to start, she tweeted that her husband Reinaldo Escobar and Eliecer Avila, both contributors to the dissident website 14yMedio, were arrested by police.
Event planners said false text messages of unknown origin were also sent to dissidents saying that the event was cancelled.
"This [Havana] performance has been repressed by the government because they will never let the Cuban people even do the symbolic gesture of speaking freely into a microphone," said Pardo Lazo. "In Cuba, even our public plazas, which are meant to foster dialogue and the exchange of different ideas, are a place where there can only be one voice: the voice of the government."
In a statement, the Cuban government said it had denied Bruguera a permit to hold the performance at the plaza in part because of how it would be covered by "counterrevolutionary" media outlets. The statement also said the government offered to move the performance to a different venue, but Bruguera refused.
In Miami, the event went ahead as planned and various Cubans and Cuban-Americans took to the mic, with admittedly very political, very anti-Castro regime speeches.
"We understand that the governments of the U.S. and Cuba are now speaking to each other, but the Cuban government is illegitimate since it was never elected by the people," Rosa Maria Payá, the daughter of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, who died under much disputed circumstances in 2012, told Fusion in Miami. "Considering this, whose voice is missing in the talks that are being had? It is the Cuban people who are missing in this equation? And that's why we're here, to stand in solidarity and to give a voice for the people who have been silenced by the government."
"I demand that we Cubans receive our full economic, political, artistic, and cultural rights, which I have never known in my lifetime," Michel Matos, a Havana artist temporarily in Miami on a cultural exchange, said into the microphone before the small crowd.
"I was scared to get up here and talk today because I'm going back to Cuba next week, and they always harass you on the way back in, go through your stuff and all that, especially if you do anything like this," he told Fusion after he finished speaking.
"But if I were in Havana I'd probably be one of the detained ones, so it's my duty to say something for my friends," he said.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.