Playwright Is in Exile as Cuba Makes use of an Previous Playbook to Quash Dissent

MADRID — For Yunior García, a Cuban playwright, the swift journey from activism in Havana to exile in Madrid may need been lifted from one in every of his scripts.

It started with the decapitated pigeons at his doorstep, positioned there, he suspects, by brokers of Cuba’s Communist authorities to scare him. Then a pro-regime crowd, scores sturdy, surrounded his house to disgrace him. He secretly secured a visa for Spain, he stated, and contacts whisked him first to a secure home, then to Havana’s airport.

And identical to that, Mr. García, one of many rising stars within the opposition demonstrations which have rocked Cuba this yr, was gone.

“I’m not manufactured from bronze or marble, and I’m not using a white horse,” Mr. García, 39, informed reporters at a information convention in Madrid on Thursday, a day after his arrival, saying he feared imprisonment and didn’t wish to be a martyr. “I’m an individual who’s afraid, with fears and with worries.”

It was a dispiriting loss — some even referred to as it a betrayal — for Cuba’s pro-democracy protesters who had managed to channel a long time of anger over financial failures and desperation attributable to the pandemic right into a second not seen earlier than on the island: a motion on the streets, organized on smartphones and social media, that drew Cubans by the 1000’s to demand change.

However that each one got here to a halt on Monday when state safety brokers scuttled a nationwide protest. And days later, one of many motion’s best-known leaders, Mr. García, was sitting in Spain.

To many, Mr. García’s predicament heralded a return to the Cuban authorities’s playbook of suppressing dissidents, which reached heights within the Nineteen Eighties and 2000s. Critics have been intimidated into fleeing the nation, or in some instances, compelled out.

“There may be this sort of recurring, cyclical phenomenon: discredit these voices, silence them, intimidate them,” stated Katrin Hansing, an anthropologist at Baruch School in New York who research Cuba.

However this new technology of exiles is totally different.

They’re younger writers, artists and musicians who, for a time, have been inspired by Cuba’s opening up, even selling their skills to the world.

Lower than a decade in the past, Cuba’s leaders talked of a need for change, even for restricted criticism of the system. The nation eliminated the exit visa, permitting Cubans to journey with out official permission and letting a youthful technology pursue schooling overseas. It made a deal with the USA to reestablish ties, with provisions to increase the circulate of knowledge.

Hamlet Lavastida, a 38-year-old Cuban artist, was amongst those that had taken benefit of the loosened restrictions. After dwelling in Poland for a number of years, he went to Germany in 2020 to take up an artist residency. His work typically took goal on the Cuban state: In Could, he exhibited a piece manufactured from cut-out paper that included one other Cuban artist’s confession underneath interrogation by the authorities.

After Mr. Lavastida returned to Havana in June, the authorities arrested him and took him to an interrogation facility the place he was held for 3 months with out cost. He stated he contracted Covid-19 there, with brokers repeatedly questioning him about his paintings and saying he was a terrorist.

“‘Are you aware who Tony Blinken is?’ they might ask,” stated Mr. Lavastida, referring to Antony J. Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state. Cuba’s authorities has accused the dissidents of performing on behalf of the USA, which it says is fostering unrest to overthrow the federal government.

In September, the federal government compelled Mr. Lavastida on to a aircraft sure for Poland, the place he has a son. Now again in Berlin, he was charged in Cuba this fall with incitement.

Mónica Baró, a 33-year-old unbiased journalist who left Cuba this yr for Madrid, stated the latest sample echoed the Black Spring crackdown of 2003, when the federal government imprisoned 75 dissidents and journalists.

This time, nonetheless, the federal government is utilizing ways that appeal to much less media consideration, Ms. Baró stated. For instance, somewhat than sentencing authorities critics outright to jail, the authorities have detained them for stretches at a time, in an effort to “destabilize everybody emotionally — you and your loved ones,” she stated.

“It’s a type of psychological torture,” Ms. Baró stated.

For Mr. García, it leaves a query: Why had the federal government touted reforms if it wouldn’t tolerate voices like his?

“It’s like they tried perestroika with out glasnost,” he stated, invoking phrases used within the Soviet Union throughout its reform period on the finish of the Chilly Conflict. The primary refers to official reforms, the second to the openness that was meant to comply with.

Mr. García made his title within the small however rising world of Cuban theater, pioneering a method by which he would write quick scripts that have been then used as the premise for improvisation. Lots of his works centered round his personal story as a dissident artist.

One play, “Jacuzzi,” informed the tales of three Cubans — a dissident, a Communist and an apathetic younger girl — as they talk about life and politics in a scorching tub. Performances of the play, which premiered in 2017, have been allowed in Cuba, although throughout Havana’s greatest theater competition, it was ordered to be carried out in a theater that was laborious to achieve, he stated.

Hopes of larger change from thawed U.S.-Cuban relations dimmed underneath the Trump administration, which aggressively rolled back a lot of the ties that had been remade between the nations, dealing a harmful blow to the Cuban economic system.

By the beginning of 2021, the pandemic was additionally straining the nation’s vaunted well being care system.

In July, hunger and blackouts ignited a wave of demonstrations, as 1000’s took to the streets in a present of defiance not seen within the six a long time because the Cuban revolution. The federal government responded by arresting hundreds.

Mr. García had hoped to mobilize protests once more this fall. He and different activists began Archipiélago, a Fb discussion board whose membership grew to greater than 38,000. They referred to as for a brand new spherical of protests to be held on Nov. 15, the day Cuba was set to permit international vacationers to enter once more.

Mr. García discovered himself within the cross hairs.

On Oct. 22, he stated he returned house to seek out the pair of decapitated pigeons. Days later, tons of of presidency supporters gathered at his doorstep, chanting in opposition to him.

“I didn’t see a single neighbor amongst them,” stated Mr. García, who believes the group was transported there by the federal government.

By final week, state-run tv started operating segments saying Mr. García was aiming to violently overthrow the federal government. He took it as a warning that he would quickly be arrested.

Although he had obtained a 90-day visa from the Spanish authorities, Mr. García nonetheless deliberate to affix the Nov. 15 protests. However he was blocked from leaving his house as the federal government stopped demonstrators from gathering.

Shortly afterward, Mr. García stated, two pals sneaked him out of his house to a secure home the place he spent two days earlier than arriving in Spain. The federal government had posted guards in entrance of his house, however Mr. García stated he believed he was not stopped as a result of officers needed him in another country.

The reactions to his departure have been combined on the Fb group he based. The group’s leaders, apparently unaware at first that he had fled, posted messages suggesting he had been kidnapped. Some commenters stated they felt betrayed that he had left.

In Spain, although, Mr. García has discovered welcome.

On Thursday, he walked right into a pizza restaurant the place he was embraced by the proprietor, Eduardo López, who had left Cuba a long time earlier than when he was 22.

“I hoped you’ll come right here. I had prayed for it,” he stated.

Mr. García sat down and glanced on the menu. He stated he needed to return to Cuba.

It wasn’t clear when that might be, if ever.

José Bautista contributed reporting from Madrid.

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