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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 considered one 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 protected home, then to Havana’s airport.

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

“I’m not fabricated from bronze or marble, and I’m not using a white horse,” Mr. García, 39, advised 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 known as it a betrayal — for Cuba’s pro-democracy protesters who had managed to channel many years 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 Eighties and 2000s. Critics have been intimidated into fleeing the nation, or in some circumstances, pressured out.

“There’s this type 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 era of exiles is completely 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 era pursue training overseas. It made a deal with america to reestablish ties, with provisions to broaden the stream of data.

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 usually took intention on the Cuban state: In Could, he exhibited a piece fabricated from cutout paper that included one other Cuban artist’s confession below 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.

“‘Have you learnt 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 appearing on behalf of america, which it says is fostering unrest to overthrow the federal government.

In September, the federal government pressured 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 impartial 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 entice much less media consideration, Ms. Baró stated. For instance, quite 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 Struggle. The primary refers to official reforms, the second to the openness that was meant to observe.

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

One play, “Jacuzzi,” advised the tales of three Cubans — a dissident, a Communist and an apathetic younger girl — as they focus on life and politics in a sizzling tub. Performances of the play, which premiered in 2017, have been allowed in Cuba, although throughout Havana’s largest theater competition, it was ordered to be carried out in a theater that was exhausting to succeed in, he stated.

Hopes of better change from thawed U.S.-Cuban relations dimmed below the Trump administration, which aggressively rolled back a lot of the ties that had been remade between the international locations, 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 many years 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 known as for a brand new spherical of protests to be held on Nov. 15, the day Cuba was set to permit overseas vacationers to enter once more.

Mr. García discovered himself within the cross hairs.

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

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

By final week, state-run tv started working 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 mates sneaked him out of his house to a protected 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 wished him in a foreign 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 many years 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 wished to return to Cuba.

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

José Bautista contributed reporting from Madrid.