Things That Matter

Cuban Government Backtracks On Historic Deal With Protesters Just Days After Reaching An Agreement

It seemed that many Cuban’s hopes for greater freedom of expression – particularly in the art world – seems to have been dashed again. In less than 24 hours after apparently agreeing to meet several demands from dissident artists, the government broke at least three of the five agreements in had made.

Freedom of expression is a hot topic in Cuba, where the communist regime severely limits what artists can say and produce.

But even more rare: public protest. That’s what makes these recent marches in Havana so important, the island hasn’t seen anything like it in decades. And as almost on script, the Cuban government flipped on its public reaction to the growing movement, instead blaming it on “U.S. imperialism” and foreign intervention.

Cuban officials have completely condemned the protest movement in a full 180º change of attitude.

Over the weekend, Cuba saw unprecedented protests led by dissident artists and creatives – known as the San Isidro movement – seeking greater freedom of expression. And although it seemed early on that the group may have made progress (the government agreed to several concessions), those hopes went up in flames as the government launched an all-out rhetorical assault.

Shortly after the meeting between protesters and officials, the protest came to a peaceful end with leaders thinking they achieved what they had set out to do, and with a meeting to discuss the issues further.

But just hours later the government called in the top U.S. diplomat on the island, charge de affairs Timothy Zúñiga-Brown, for a scolding over “grave interference in Cuba’s internal affairs” as state television ran a 90-minute special attacking members of the protest group and broadcasting visuals of their interactions with U.S. diplomats and Miami exiles.

“Sovereign Cuba accepts no interference … The revolutionary ones will fight back,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in one of a series of Twitter posts accusing the San Isidro movement of being a “reality show” on social media created by “U.S. imperialists.”

What originally seemed like progress now seems like business as usual for the communist regime.

Credit: Yamil Lapage / AFP / Getty Images

It seemed, at least for a few short hours, that there was a real chance at bolstering artistic freedom in Cuba. The group of protesters, known as the San Isidro movement, gathered outside the culture ministry, leading Fernando Rojas, the deputy culture minister, to invite in a group of 30 of them. The meeting lasted for more than four hours, those present have said, and resulted in a promise of greater freedoms for artists.

Writer Katherine Bisquet told the press afterward that there had been a “truce for independent spaces” where activists could meet and talk, and that further discussions were promised.

“I cannot emphasize enough that this kind of public protest, with hundreds of people standing outside a ministry for 14 hours, is unprecedented,” Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco told Artnet News. “The fact that government officials conceded to a meeting is in itself a victory for the artists and a sign of weakness on the part of the government.”

The government had also agreed to urgently review the case of a detained member of the San Isidro crew and a rapper sentenced this month to eight months in jail on charges of contempt. It also agreed to ensure independent artists in the future were not harassed.

Cuban officials blamed the U.S. for stirring up dissent.

Shortly after the government launched a verbal assault on the group, it also accused the U.S. of helping them. Officials at the Foreign Ministry summoned the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Chargé d’Affaires Timothy Zuñiga-Brown, and complained about U.S. “intervention.”

At Sunday’s rally, Díaz Canel said that “Trumpistas” (referring to the Trump administration) and the “anti-Cuban mafia that are now ‘Trumpistas'” (referring to Cuban American Trump supporters in Miami) “had on their agenda that before the year ends, the revolutions of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela have to fall.”

Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s national security adviser, tweeted Sunday: “We support the Cuban people in their struggle for liberty and echo calls for the Cuban government to release peaceful protestors. The Cuban people must be allowed to exercise the universal right to freedom of expression.”

Thanks to an imploding economy in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented crisis.

Credit: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images

Cuba is going through dire shortages in food and basic goods amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has practically halted tourism to the island, on top of the Trump administration’s harsh sanctions.

Against that backdrop, García said, “I think the government should think about these things and view dialogue as a valid option to avoid a major disaster.”

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Protesters In Mexico Take To Streets To Demand Justice For Dog Brutally Killed By Man With An Axe

Things That Matter

Protesters In Mexico Take To Streets To Demand Justice For Dog Brutally Killed By Man With An Axe

Ivan Alvarez / Getty Images

Residents of one Mexican city have taken to the streets to demand justice for a local stray dog who was brutally killed in an axe attack last month. Video of the incident was uploaded to social media and quickly went viral, leading to large protests in the Sinaloan city of Los Mochis.

Hundreds marched in Los Mochis to seek justice for a dog killed by man with an axe.

Hundreds took to the streets in Los Mochis, Sinaloa to demand justice for Rodolfo, a mixed breed dog killed with an axe on March 21. They showed banners that read “Justice for Rodolfo & for all who have no voice,” “We won’t stop until we have justice,” and “Justice for Rodolfo,” among others.

Despite the COVID-19 regulations, the participants in this new march, children, women and men, calmly marched through the center of the city of Los Mochis to make it clear that they are against animal cruelty and demanded justice for Rodolfo, who was a local stray dog. The demonstration gained traction after a video of the attack on Rodolfo, also known by Heart, Pirate and Shorty, was uploaded onto social media.

The predominantly young crowd marched to the state prosecutor’s office where environmental activist Arturo Islas Allende delivered a criminal complaint. Many brought their pets to the march and carried placards demanding the killer be sentenced to prison. One placard read: “Justice for Rodolfo and for all those that don’t have a voice.”

The suspected attacker, José “M,” a student at a Sinaloa university, has already delivered a preparatory statement to officials. Islas Allende questioned the morality of the killer. “We don’t want a psychopath like him as our neighbor,” he said.

The suspect’s girlfriend claimed that he killed the dog to protect her.

The girlfriend of the alleged attacker took to social media in his defense, saying the dog had attacked her days earlier and injured her face and hands.

On her Facebook account she claimed that medical treatments for her injuries had cost 8,000 pesos (US $400) and uploaded photographs of the injuries caused by the dog’s bites.

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In Cuba, Where Food Is Unreliable, Savvy Cooks Have Turned to Facebook to Share Recipes

Culture

In Cuba, Where Food Is Unreliable, Savvy Cooks Have Turned to Facebook to Share Recipes

Photo via Getty Images

COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for Cubans. Not only have Cubans been physically affected by the virus like the rest of the world, but the drop in the island’s gross domestic product has stymied local economic productivity. The island can no longer look to tourism to add to their GDP.

Because of this drop in GDP, food shortages on the island have become more severe than in recent memory. And Cuban cooks are feeling the effects.

Cubans must stand in line for hours at markets with no guarantees that the ingredients that they want will be available.

This way of living is especially hard for Cuban cooks, like 39-year-old Yuliet Colón. For Colón, cooking is both a creative expression and a stress reliever. “The kitchen is my happy place, where I am calmer and I feel better,” she recently revealed to the Associated Press.

Yuliet Colón is one of the creators of a Facebook page called Recetas del Corazón that has changed the cooking game for thousands of Cubans.

Now, thanks to Colón and other curious and generous Cuban cooks like her, Recipes from the Heart is now 12,000 members strong.

The goal of the page is to help struggling Cuban cooks cope with food shortages. Members of the page share creative recipes, tips, and food substitutions. Launched in June of 2020, the page was an instant success. Its success proves that Cubans have been desperate to find ways to adapt their cooking to the post-COVID-era.

To AP News, Yuliet Colón laments about the lack of rice, beans, cheese, fruit, and, most of all, eggs. “What I like the most is making desserts, but now it’s hard to get eggs, milk or flour,” she revealed.

The brightside is, however, that Cuban cooks are finally able to share food-related tips and tricks with each other on a much larger scale than they were before the internet became more widespread in the country.

Now that many Cubans have access to communication apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, they can now connect with one another and make the most of what they have–however little that may be.

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