Reports from Cuba: Cuba’s San Isidro Movement: Between poetry and death

Irina Echarry writes in Havana Times:

Cuba’s San Isidro Movement: Between Poetry & Death

In the house/headquarters of the San Isidro Movement where the hunger strike is taking place.

I haven’t slept well for days, I wake up startled when I do. During the day I feel great anguish. Right now, there are young people, some that I know well, who are torn between poetry and death.

How can it be? Because Cuba has become a country of excesses. And poetry has turned out to be a very serious matter. So much so that State Security corners a handful of artists and activists who read poems. They read poems peacefully to demand freedom for rapper Denis Solís, sentenced to eight months in prison after a summary trial.

What more can you say? They were not on a public street, they were surrounded in a private house, the headquarters of the Museum of Dissidence in Old Havana. State Security has prevented food from being brought to them, and friends and family from seeing them. In reaction, the group of artists responded with a hunger strike, starting four days ago.

I don’t like hunger strikes, I don’t agree with mistreating the body in that way because, if you stay alive, there are many consequences. However, this group of young artists doesn’t notice their bodies, rather they look at a social body, the one that is already so mistreated. They hope to repair it, that their example will serve to rebuild a little confidence in ourselves.

And they have been doing it with perseverance and recklessness.

I admire the San Isidro Movement for its courage and its eagerness not to separate itself from ordinary people, from their interests and difficulties. They are a heterogeneous group, which has grown over time.

Believing that in Cuba it is possible to bring together a large number of people to demonstrate against government measures, is a romantic gesture about a necessary desire, which I hope will be achieved.

But we are not in a movie but in real life, with flesh and blood beings, without superheroes, with a government unresponsive to pressure from a few people. People who disagree and are not afraid to say so. They call them mercenaries to discredit them. Today I heard someone say something even more outlandish: “the police have surrounded a group of murderers.”

Assassins, and people repeat it.

When I hear phrases like that, I put my shyness aside, I can’t let things get twisted like that. I make the greatest emphasis on the San Isidro Movement’s demand for the closure of dollar stores. This is something many of us want and do not have the courage to speak out. This is a good point to bring people closer to this group of artists.

However, the only thing I achieve is that those who listen to me change the word “murderers” for the word “crazy.” They are going to die, they tell me, they are crazy, nobody is going to listen to them.

And they repeat it, two, three times. It makes you nauseous.

Even though I would like to hear words of encouragement, I understand that in Cuba there is no culture of civic protest. People don’t know how to do it, and finding out involves jail, stigmatization and loneliness.

However, the San Isidro Movement does know how; it has put the government in check many times. It has forced them to listen; it has shown that there are many forms of struggle. They’ve shown that you can go far through art, dreams are fulfilled, goals are reached. But dying is something else.

Barriers are moved little by little; spaces are gained step by step. But you must be alive for that. There is no point losing young, talented and valuable people. Let’s demand that the government remove its ear plugs, the blindfold; to hear and see what’s happening in San Isidro.

And let’s encourage the group to rethink the hunger strike. Not acting as if there is no other alternative, as if we need martyrs. They are our friends, close people, with families, and we want the same thing: a freer, more respectful, more humane country.

That these artists risk their bodies for an entire country does not make them immortal. If this group of artists dies it will not generate a breakthrough. On the contrary, we will have to carry that weight in our consciences, without these beautiful, creative people. Exactly the people we need to make a better country among all of us.

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