Artists say Cuba government agrees to dialogue, tolerance

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Young artists protest in front of the doors of the Ministry of Culture, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. Dozens of Cuban artists demonstrated against the police evicting a group who participated in a hunger strike. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)

HAVANA – A group of Cuban artists and intellectuals say they won an unusual government vow of greater tolerance for independent art on Saturday after a demonstration in front of the Culture Ministry.

About 20 artists had gathered Friday and the crowd grew to 200 by late night, when Vice Minister Fernando Rojas and the directors of several associations affiliated with the governing Communist Party met with delegates of the demonstrators until after midnight.

The officials agreed to talks on “an agenda of multiple topics with proposals by both sides,” said writer Katherine Bisquet. In addition, “We will be able to meet without being harassed in independent spaces. There is a truce for independent spaces.”

The demonstration, and official willingness to deal with the participants is unusual in a country whose government historically has had little tolerance for open protest, tends to label dissenters as tools of its enemies abroad and has arrested hundreds of them.

But those who turned up at Friday's demonstraton included people with a long history working in the government-run culture sector, including actor Jorge Perugurría, a star of the film “Strawberry and Chocolate,” director Fernando Pérez, playwright Yunior García and feminist activist Dianelys Alfonso.

There were moments of tension on Saturday when police surrounded the plaza where the demonstration took place and power went off for a time in area, though it wasn't clear if that was related to the demonstration.

“It is time for dialogue and I think it is important for you young peopleto be heard, and we are going to work for that," Perugurría said before entering to meet with the authorities.

“The thing that struck me most was the diversity of people from the cultural, political and social fields in Cuba who have been uniting ... (on) a series of demands, ” said Michael Bustamante, a specialist in Latin American history at Florida International University. He said that the demands “are very general” and said “not everybody will agree on how to proceed.”