Cuba talks on freedom of expression break down — statement

Cuba talks on freedom of expression break down — statement

Friday, December 04, 2020

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HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) — Rare talks between Cuba's communist government and an artists' collective over freedom of expression have broken down, the Culture Ministry said Friday in a statement.

The ministry said it would not meet the collective's delegates, accusing them of receiving "funding, logistical and propaganda support from the US government and its officials".

Officials initially agreed to a dialogue over the artists' demands after a rare protest by around 300 artists and intellectuals outside its headquarters in Havana last weekend.

Culture Ministry officials agreed to meet a delegation of around 30 of the demonstrators, among whose demands were greater freedom of expression and an end to repression and harassment of independent artists.

The unprecedented discussions were expected to get underway this week between Culture Minister Alpidio Alonso and artists' representatives.

However, the communist authorities hardened their tone, denouncing a US conspiracy.

The ministry said in its statement that it took exception to an "insolent letter" received on Thursday, which sought to "impose unilaterally who should participate in dialogue, with whom it agrees to dialogue, and on what".

The group had demanded President Miguel Diaz-Canel participate in the talks.

Diaz-Canel, the first Cuban leader of the post-Castro era — too young to have participated in the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul — accused the collective of being behind "an unconventional war strategy to try to overthrow the revolution".

The demonstration outside the Culture Ministry building followed the expulsion by police the previous Thursday of members of a previously little known artists' collective from their premises in the historic centre of Havana.

Members of the San Isidro Movement had been protesting for 10 days, with six of them on hunger strike, and their movement had gained significant attention.

The ministry said it remained open to dialogue with a section of the artists' community.

"For the young people and all the artists who met in front of the ministry on 27 November, who have not compromised their work with the enemies of the Cuban nation, the opportunities for dialogue remain open," the statement said. "But we cannot get along with the mercenaries."

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