HAVANA (AP) — Cuban authorities have cleared more than a dozen artists and activists from a home they have used as a center for anti-government protests that have gained unusually wide attention.
Police and health authorities raided the house in Old Havana on Thursday night, removing the protesters and taking at least most to their homes.
The group known as the San Isidro Movement, which periodically stages performance art and music events, has repeatedly criticized the Communist government and is demanding the release of a musician member recently convicted of insulting a police officer.
There were no immediate reports of arrests, but Amnesty International and the head of the Organization of American States expressed concern about the operation against the group. Almost 300 Cuban intellectuals and artists this week had issued a statement urging the government to engage in dialogue with them.
Oficials said the gathering violated COVID-19 safety protocols, alleging that one of those inside was a Mexico resident who had recently returned from the United States and should have been quarantined. They also said he had given a different address when arriving in Cuba.
The activists called it an attempt to quash a protest, which they said included a hunger strike, that had drawn international attention to the debate about freedom of expression in Cuba.
Rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo told The Associated Press that the artists and activists were taken to a police station and then to their homes as he rejected COVID-19 concerns for the reason to raid the home.
“That was a tool that the regime used to oppress us,” he said.
The protesters had spent 10 days in the house, the residence of one activist, in support of rapper Denis Solís, a San Isidro member who was sentenced to eight months in jail after confronting a police officer he said had illegally entered his home. He posted an online video of himself insulting the officer.
Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, demanded to know the location of those he said were protesting peacefully: “The dictatorship of Cuba is responsible for their lives,” he tweeted Friday.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International condemned what it said was harassment and intimidation of protesters supporting Solís, whom the organization said was apparently detained Nov. 9 and sentenced two days later for “contempt ... a crime inconsistent with international human rights law.”
“Authorities can continue to harass, intimidate, detain, and criminalize artists and alternative thinkers, but they can’t keep their minds in prison,” Amnesty said in a recent statement.
In days before the raid, the group of artists expressed “growing alarm” at the standoff with the activists and urged the Ministry of Culture to have a dialogue with the strikers. On Friday, dozens of people gathered at the Ministry of Culture to demand answers. Among them was artist Julio Llopiz-Casal, who had earlier signed the statement seeking dialogue with the government.
“Cuba, at the moment we're in, deserves the right for one to express oneself, and we as representatives of the artistic community are demanding this," he said.
Cuban singer Carlos Varela also referred to the artists and activists in a Facebook post, saying, "To have ideological differences, generate changes, think different paths to build the polyphony of voices of a country is legitimate and healthy,” he wrote. “That should not be decided nor limited, much less regulated, by a government in the name of one ideology or another.”