Cuba turns up heat on dissidents

By Charles Haviland, BBC News, Havana A handful of opponents used garden hoses on the police Police in Cuba have detained three leading dissidents as they tried to march in central Havana. The march…

Cuba turns up heat on dissidents

By Charles Haviland, BBC News, Havana

A handful of opponents used garden hoses on the police Police in Cuba have detained three leading dissidents as they tried to march in central Havana. The march was planned in support of exiles who protested against Cuba’s government in Miami in the summer. The three men had called for similar protests to occur in Cuba. The repression comes as the island’s young generation embraces cultural dissent. Their revolt is straining official controls on the free flow of information on this island. Residents of a modest apartment block in the heart of Havana say they watched as authorities surrounded their building in early afternoon. A few men – taken away by police – were then arrested as they tried to leave. A couple of them climbed up a communal rooftop and unfurled a large banner calling for the overthrow of the communist system. Police grabbed the banner. Around 1,000 people took part in the protest. The demonstration – for what is known as the Teatro Popular Freedom – came as the young generation of musicians and artists who influenced young Cubans in the US and across the world for decades, is embracing cultural dissent. It started with an email addressed to ZunZuneo, a Cuban state-funded Twitter-like service and radio station launched in 2008 to provide free international communications to people in Cuba. A novel, translated into eight languages and translated into six other languages by a Canadian writer, had been pitched for this event as a protest against censorship on the island. Little chance The most likely scenario is that a handful of dissidents – including Berta Soler and her daughter, Ella Soler-Ginzburg – worked together to mount the protest as an act of symbolic defiance against government controls. I ask why we have a Cuban poet or a singer to sing about oppression? Everything has been censored off and everything has been censored off

Ella Soler-Ginzburg

ZunZuneo protest The government told activists they had to organise this event through a government body or by petition, or face arrest. Even that avenue proved cut off. Ella Soler-Ginzburg told the BBC that the email had led to a Kafkaesque propaganda war, with a local government refusing to reply to emails containing even simple questions. ZunZuneo founder Orestes Marín was never registered as a student to speak. ZunZuneo closed in December after being accused of state propaganda. In August a group of activists in the US held demonstrations in support of dissidents who had been imprisoned in Cuba. But the new demonstrations took on a more political tenor. Ella Soler-Ginzburg, a new pop star, said she hoped to recruit young Cubans for a cause she called “freedom”. “I ask why we have a Cuban poet or a singer to sing about oppression? Everything has been censored off and everything has been censored off,” she said. “Every film has to be approved by a supervisor, everything has to be approved. But when I want to be published I’ve already seen that it can be published. I have freedom.” There are other dissidents who have died in the past year without a proper funeral, to avoid them from being taken away by the state. ZunZuneo launched in a bid to provide the internet in Cuba with new channels to reach Cuba’s dissident and opposition groups. [The authorities] won’t tolerate any more freedom of speech. It’s just one big police state

Elizardo Sanchez, Cuban human rights activist The service was reportedly meant to spread information about other social groups on the island – and was one of the few ways the poor could get information on internet sites available to them inside Cuba. In the first few months it went down because of a lack of funding, and then Cuba’s communications authority ordered it closed in December after being accused of state propaganda. Ella Soler-Ginzburg and other dissidents have said they will not be using the service. ZunZuneo supporters say it has a loyal following in Cuba. And Ella Soler-Ginzburg said she wanted to find ways to use it and communications outside the state to spread revolutionary ideas among Cubans. ZunZuneo is available to download from the internet, though it has been banned in Cuba.

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