This conversation was recorded in the small bathroom of the Argos Teatro a couple of hours before the performance of Hembra (Female), on Sunday, December 6, 2020. It was the only reserved space, away from the auditorium and the corridor in front of the dressing rooms where the actresses were doing vocalizations. He offered me a stool and he sat on the only other available place: the toilet.
I explained to him that I was doing research on 27N and wanted to interview participants from all sides, including some who were not there because they were attending the tángana at Trillo Park, in order to write an article requested by a Latin American academic journal.
I had already seen his work two weeks before, the Sunday before November 27, but I did not know him personally. The conversation inside the small bathroom extended without anyone interrupting us, not even when the play was about to begin. He told me that I could do whatever I wanted with the interview without even consulting him; only that I should not quote a comment he made about a person, which he considered too private. I have not.
Other interviews and data I gathered to analyze 27N differ in some specific details of greater or lesser significance from the facts he gave me. For example, the payment of the artists’ salaries during the pandemic; or Tania Bruguera’s truthfulness about having entered the Ministry of Culture for the first time on November 27. Most probably, others who took part in these events have different versions of some facts or behaviors.
Those described here come only from his personal account, but they are most of all the reflection of his subjectivity as a protagonist, regarding in particular the meaning of his actions, his judgments and representations about other participants, the differences among them, and the variety of intentions and contradictions, tendencies and personalities, within such a heterogeneous group.
I consider it useful to publish it now, also because it covers key antecedents of what would become a different project, that of the November 15, 2021 march, just 11 months and nine days later. His narration, along with a detailed sequence of events and characters, is a political, ideological and ethical record that contrasts with the current situation.
I have analyzed in other texts the significance of that sit-in of artists to make claims to their Minister, as well as of the march scheduled for November 15 to request talks among all political currents inside and outside the island  and the protests of July 11, 2021. I do not consider them historical watersheds, but rather political events that the Cuban situation here and now makes it possible to explain. I mention them just in case the reader is interested in examining that context and its complexities.
I thank Yunior again for his willingness to answer all my questions and his confidence to do so then so that now, after some time has passed, I can reproduce and share his words.
Rafael Hernández: Who came up with the idea to go to the Ministry of Culture? What were the main motives and demands? Tell me about how it all started.
Yunior García: At least as far as I am concerned, for a long time there had been an accumulation of dissatisfactions, and I still think there are many unresolved matters. Are you already recording?
Rafael Hernández: Yes, I think so; go ahead.
Yunior García: In my case, I had felt a number of dissatisfactions for a long time. Does it bother you to sit there?
Rafael Hernández: Not at all.
Yunior García: This is the only place where we can have some quiet.
Rafael Hernández: Yes, it is better here.
Yunior García: Thing is, it was here in this bathroom where all this actually started. OK, Iet us start from the top again so you can get the whole idea.
In my case, there was an accumulation of dissatisfactions, of things that at the level of culture and the country made me uncomfortable as a citizen.
This year was particularly difficult, because of not only the pandemic and the economic crisis, but also because it started with censorship. For example, the case of [José Luis] Aparicio’s documentary Sueños al pairo [Dreams on the sidelines]; the expulsion of Pedro Junco from the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) in Camagüey… There were even attempts against me to have me expelled from the UNEAC in Holguin, where I have my membership. It was for the views that I posted on social networks, especially a very critical one that I wrote on the anniversary of the UNEAC Congress stating that we still had the same problems after a Congress that had sounded very optimistic and seemingly reached a consensus for the good of Cuban culture. One year after that Congress, I really did not see any progress.
The issue of the San Isidro Movement (SIM) was a sort of build-up of contradictions. Not that I felt fully identified with either the ideas or the aesthetics of the SIM. In fact, I did not know anyone in the Movement, only Omara [Ruiz Urquiola], who is not even part of the SIM; she was only accompanying the strikers. However, the way the State was dealing with this issue seemed excessive to me. I thought the relationship between the Cuban State and the SIM was out of proportion and that the media was being unfair in its treatment of the Movement by demonizing it without any proof and even manipulating false or alleged evidence. It seemed to me that the whole attitude toward or against the Movement was very crude.
I tried to go there to see with my own eyes what was going on, I think two days before they were taken out of their house. They wouldn’t let me in; there was a police cordon on the corner of the street, and they told me that I couldn’t have access to the place. So I left.
The violent acts of repudiation continued, even in Parque Central. Terrible things that I thought had already disappeared in Cuba were happening all over again. I am not only talking about the shouting, but also physical violence, beatings, political hatred.
On the evening of November 26, we were here in the theater in the middle of the performance of Hembra. I was here in this bathroom trying to keep abreast of the whole situation. I saw that they had cut off the social networks, especially Facebook and Instagram. Both websites were down, and so was Twitter, I think. I immediately related it to San Isidro and assumed that something was going on. As soon as the play was over and the mobile data and social networks were active again, we found out what had happened. Again, it seemed to me that the use of such a sensitive issue as COVID 19 was a manipulation. I, who had praised Cuba’s role in fighting the pandemic, thought that they were using such a sensitive issue to solve a political crisis.
I felt outraged. I started to receive calls from some friends who made comments. One of them, Raul Prado, a lawyer and photographer who was dating one of the actresses, told me that he was coming here after the show to pick up his girlfriend. And right here we started talking and decided that we could not allow it, because it could all take us back to the darkest days of the cultural history of this country. Rather than the San Isidro issue, it was about our feelings that our own freedoms as artists were under threat.
They had tried to censor me a bit earlier because of some statements I made to Cibercuba, mainly about cultural issues. I don’t know if it was because of the content or because of the media where they were published, but the fact is that the season of Hembra here at Argos Teatro was paralyzed for about three weeks, and nobody knew whether it was going to continue or not. After a few weeks without getting a concrete answer from anybody, [Carlos] Celdrán refused to suspend the season. He had offered us the venue, and the institution was not making any decision. I kept saying that we were going to go ahead with it and that we were willing to negotiate, and finally we managed to keep it on stage for the season.
In my personal case, tension was piling up. It was why on the evening of November 26 a group of friends, I think there were about five of us at that time, decided to gather the following day at eleven in the morning in front of the Ministry of Culture and request to speak to the Minister, not only to complain about the way they had treated the San Isidro issue, but also to state our concerns that our own artistic, creative and civic freedoms were being threatened.
About six or seven of us met, in fact a little earlier, by the Trianon theater, and from there we walked to the Ministry of Culture when it was about a quarter to eleven.
The night before we had created a WhatsApp group to agree on how to proceed and get together. Of course, each member of the WhatsApp in turn spread the word among friends they trusted who would be willing to join us in what we wanted to do.
Rafael Hernández: Including members of the San Isidro group.
Yunior García: No, not at the time. We had not yet contacted anyone from the SIM, nor the opposition. We were artists, all of us.
Rafael Hernández: Do you remember who was there?
Yunior García: At first, it was Raúl Prado, we from Trébol Teatro, the audiovisual producer [Ricardo] Figueredo, [José Luis] Aparicio, another young audiovisual producer, and the young visual artists [Reynier Leyva] El Chino Novo and [Julio] Llópiz [Casal]. I also wrote to other people like Claudia Calviño and Carlos Lechuga. We were all artists who had been somehow censored or feeling unhappy about the situation of culture in Cuba, and we had already expressed those concerns in social networks. Some of us knew each other, others not so well, but we knew we were on the same page.
IN FRONT OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE
At eleven o’clock sharp, a group of about fourteen or fifteen of us decided to go and talk to the guard at the door and ask the Minister to receive us. One of the advisors came downstairs and told us that the Minister could not see us, that he was elsewhere at that moment attending a videoconference or teleconference, and that we should talk to her instead. We told her that the matters we had to talk about had to be with the Minister, and that we were willing to wait as long as necessary.
The group kept growing, we were already forty or fifty people. Right then and there we decided to post a message on Facebook: “We are in front of the Ministry, asking to meet with the Minister.» More people who found out about the gathering were already joining us. At some point there were fifty or sixty people, and not all of them were artists; in fact, it was plain to see that they had other intentions, and we were appealing to everyone to be calm, telling them that we were not there to…
Rafael Hernández: Do you mean they had violent intentions?
Yunior García: They were not violent, but willing to take things a bit further and push harder, saying that we should move to a place like the Capitol Building. There were many different proposals there, and we made it clear that most of us were artists who were there in solidarity with the SIM, but that we did not necessarily have or shared the same ideas as them. We were there also because we were concerned about our own creative freedoms. We made it clear that if our concerns were different we would have gone to another institution, but we believed that if we had come to the Ministry of Culture we had to keep our demands within the purview of that institution.
Our post on Facebook gave rise to various opinions. For example, from the province of Cienfuegos, Atilio Caballero told me that the Minister was there. Other people said that they had not seen him, that a deputy minister had been there but not the Minister himself. The fact is that the Ministry of Culture did not give us any clear answer as to where the Minister was or if we were going to be received.
At about two o’clock in the afternoon, I do not remember well, Fernando Rojas called me personally on the phone, since he is the Vice Minister of Culture but also the president of the Performing Arts Council and someone with whom I have exchanged views for a long time, since I asked the fifteen questions at that assembly of the Hermanos Saíz Association (AHS). Fernando had been my interlocutor back then, and by tradition we have talked and treated each other with respect. We have exchanged opinions and, although we have never agreed, at least we have listened to each other. Fernando suggested…
Rafael Hernández: When was the AHS assembly where you asked those fifteen questions?
Yunior García: I think it was in 2015; I cannot remember the exact date, it has been a while now.
Rafael Hernández: Was it at an AHS assembly?
Yunior García: Yes, in the province of Holguín.
Rafael Hernández: In Holguín…
Yunior García: Yes, and it also stigmatized me somehow and turned me into an urban legend of sorts, particularly in Holguín. The social networks were not so strong back then, but people would pass around flash drives with the audio file. In short, it is complicated. I decided to solve that problem with Jacuzzi, a theatrical event that somewhat summarized what I felt.
Anyway, Fernando called me at about two o’clock in the afternoon and told me that he was willing to meet with three of the demonstrators, namely with me, Llópiz and El Chino Novo. I said that I did not make decisions, as there were no leaders there. I mean, there was a wide cross section of people there, but without leadership. At any rate, some of us were helping to organize and keep things under control, so that what was happening there would not be distorted, but again, none of us were leading anything. Anyway, I told them what Fernando suggested, but they refused, holding that they should listen to the whole group at that moment, so we kept negotiating by telephone with Fernando.
What we said to Fernando was, “We all want to be heard and we want the Minister to be the one to listen to us”. Such was the group’s decision at that time, so the negotiations continued.
Rafael Hernández: By ‘group’ you mean all those who were there, right?
Yunior García: Yes, about forty or fifty people. The number kept growing, it was no longer forty or fifty people, but around one hundred at that time. It was about three or maybe four in the afternoon.
Fernando then suggested that it should not be at the Ministry, because there was no place to fit us all in, so we should move to the Adolfo Llauradó Theater, large enough for forty of us to meet with him. We told everyone, and it was difficult, because it was already a rather heterogeneous and large crowd, and it was very hard to reach an agreement. We put the decision to a vote, and the majority, by a show of hands, chose to make it clear that we would remain where we were. One of their arguments was that they were trying to distract attention and get us out of there, where the international press was already gathering, which in a way was a kind of guarantee for us that we were not going to be beaten or assaulted. We were already surrounded by police cars and there were many people in civilian clothes, some of whom we know were members of the rapid response brigades or participated in acts of repudiation. We feared that at any moment they would use violence against us, so staying there in front of the Ministry was the safest course of action for our group of peaceful protesters.
We began to make statements to the international press because we felt it was important to make clear what was happening there. There were very diverse opinions; by then there were some groups whose stance is certainly more radical in terms of the art they make. I am talking about activists who are seen as part of the opposition, but in the end we all agreed that whatever we did had to be peaceful and strictly limited to what had to do with our creative freedoms and rights, and in solidarity with the SIM, specifically demanding that the legal situation of Dennis Solís be evaluated. That is, that he be given a fair trial, that his case be reviewed, and that Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara be allowed to return home, as they had done with others, and that they not be kept under house arrest, so to speak.
It was a very diverse group, and the majority voted to remain there in front of the Ministry so that we could all be heard and speak with the Minister of Culture in person.
By nightfall, it was becoming very difficult to control the tensions. There were already many people around us, and I mean those who could be there for repressive purposes at any given moment. Some people were truly afraid, as the group had grown too much; we were already more than two hundred people in that place. Others were already claiming that the police line would not allow them to join us and therefore they had to stay in the surrounding area. Night was falling, and we feared that this could be the excuse to unleash violence against us when there was not much sunlight.
That was when we decided to give up some of our demands. The last proposal was that we should divide ourselves into our respective guilds, that each one of them appoint a representative, select a group of thirty people to go in the Ministry. We suggested that we should meet in one of the courtyards, for security reasons, because of COVID-19. In one of those open courtyards there were thirty of us, willing to have a dialogue with Fernando Rojas. Before that…
Rafael Hernández: When you say ‘guilds’, which ones were they?
Yunior García: There were many stage players—we all knew each other—and also many independent filmmakers, especially related to Cardumen or the Muestra de Cine Joven. There were independent visual artists, some of them connected to the figure of Tania Bruguera, but also others, young as well, who make independent art. There were independent journalists and writers. It was quite a heterogeneous group. We decided to split into such groups of friends who knew and recognized each other for being from the same guild. Then they chose their representatives, five from each group. And since there were also members of the SIM, we told them to choose among themselves the ones they wanted to represent them.
I have to say that before nightfall Fernando asked me to go upstairs to talk and to negotiate the conditions of the meeting directly with him. The group outside did not agree that I should go inside alone, as they were afraid that I would be manipulated or something like that. Then we decided that a girl would go in with me, and it was Camila Lobón, from INSTAR; I think she used to be involved with art galleries or something of the sort. I am not 100% sure, but I think she studied Art History. She went upstairs with me and we talked there with Fernando Rojas and two of the Minister’s advisors. We negotiated, discussed our conditions, and agreed that thirty of us, chosen by the heterogeneous, multiple group outside, would come in the Ministry for talks and that we would do it without our cell phones and the meeting would be with Fernando Rojas. I asked him that in addition to him there should be representatives of the AHS and UNEAC. He accepted and requested some time to reach an agreement on who would be the representatives of those institutions.
Rafael Hernández: Were either Fernando Pérez or Pichy [Jorge Perugorría] involved in setting the terms of that dialogue?
Yunior García: No, Fernando Pérez and Pichy had nothing to do with that. I am telling you what I experienced while I was outside the Ministry.
Rafael Hernández: I see, yes.
Yunior García: It had grown totally dark by then, but we seemed unable to reach a consensus. In fact, there were also some disagreements in the group outside, as some believed it was a mistake to go it without cell phones and leave without a recording of the meeting, because they could doctor the contents of our dialogue. The list was already defined, that is, the names of the thirty of us who were going to go in, but the Ministry of Culture still had not said yes, so we still had no authorization to enter their premises.
It was late at night when Fernando Pérez and Jorge Perugorría showed up. I heard about it a few minutes before, so I told the group: “Some great artists are coming here in solidarity with us”, and at that moment Fernando Pérez and Jorge Perugorría arrived. It was a relief, because we felt that it was a guarantee that at least there would not be a crackdown on us. Besides, having with us Fernando Pérez, who is renowned figure, a National Culture Award winner, very well known and loved, could deter anyone from repressing us by force. There was fear anyway and a great deal of uncertainty; however, everyone remained calm all along.
As for me, let me tell you, I went there with five Cuban pesos in my pocket, but I felt the solidarity of the whole group. People who did not even know me would offer me a piece of bread or some water; we smokers would pass around our cigarettes; some people were reciting poems, others were singing… At all times we made it clear that we could not allow ourselves to be provoked, nor would we condone any form of violence on the part of those who were demonstrating there, or any shouting, slogan, disqualification, offensive language, insult or hateful expression. There were proposals, though, that is, by individuals who admitted they were not artists when we asked them and were inciting people to some form of violence. Some were saying, “You don’t have a dialogue with the dictatorship”. In short, there were many opinions, but we members of the art community agreed that we wanted to talk and that everything had to be peaceful and calm. We said, “There may be a provocation, since we don’t know how many people are here to distort what we are doing”, by the radicals on either side. “If anything happens other than what we agreed, we will sit on the floor and stay silent; that is, we will not respond”. In fact, we all spread the word, saying ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ and using a phrase from the Elpidio Valdés cartoons: ‘Don’t let yourselves be provoked’. That is how it was.
Peace prevailed. Many people sang songs, and we even asked some rappers who were there, poets, to try to share their poems with the public. We also decided to applaud every fifteen minutes in order to exert some pressure, but peacefully and without breaking with art. There are a few very funny anecdotes about it. At some point La Diosa joined us, a well-known figure on the social media and urban circles, and it was time for the next applause. When she arrived and saw everyone clapping their hands, she thought it was because of her, so she turned to the cameras and started waving to them. It was the funniest event of the night, regardless of our great tension and fear.
Finally, well into the night, Fernando made it a final condition that Tania Bruguera be taken off the list of thirty names. I didn’t even share his request with the audience or those who were there because it was absolutely impossible to accept. I didn’t think it was ethical to ask such a thing about one of the persons who had been democratically elected, an internationally recognized artist to boot, beyond anything anybody could say, whose presence in that group seemed legitimate to me. So I said, “Fernando, that’s not negotiable, I’m not even going to consult them about it: she’s in, the condition was to be elected as one of those thirty and she was, and nobody will be crossed off the list”.
Rafael Hernández: Did you know her personally?
Yunior García: No, I had never heard of her; when he told me, I had to ask a friend, ‘Which one is Tania Bruguera?’ I had seen her work, but I had never exchanged a word with Tania, I met her that day.
Rafael Hernández: Did you know any of the members of the San Isidro group?
Yunior García: Only Omara Ruiz Urquiola, who is not a member of the group. She was my scenic design teacher at ISA [University of the Arts]. I had only heard of Anamely [Ramos], because I was not in her class, unlike some of the theater kids who were there. Finally, we managed to go into the Ministry.
Rafael Hernández: Had you ever met Alcántara or Dennis?
Yunior García: No, I did not know Dennis at all; I had heard of Alcántara, from when he protested against [Decree-Law] 349 and everything that happened afterwards. When they took him to prison, I was one of the signatories of the letter requesting his release. I had talked especially with visual artist friends who have more experience than I do in that world and who knew his work and recognized him as an artist, that is, that he was a legitimate artist, regardless of any assertion to the contrary.
Finally, we went in to talk, thirty of us plus two, Fernando and Pichy, who made it clear that they had joined us for our sake, that is, to keep us company, not to mediate with or represent the institution. In fact, when we went upstairs and into the small theater where we held the meeting, they sat at the back, behind the thirty of us.
Inside were Fernando Rojas presiding the meeting; Yasser Toledo, a vice president of AHS; the vice president of UNEAC [Marta Bonet]; the director of Genesis Gallery [Jorge Alfonso], and the director of the Museum of Fine Arts [Jorge Fernandez].
I have participated in congresses ever since I studied at the National School of Art [ENA], where they appointed me delegate to the Congress of the Federation of High School Students [FEEM] in the days of the Battle of Ideas, and I participated in the organization of the AHS and UNEAC congresses, which I could not attend because I was out of the country on a theater tour at that time. Although I have been involved in the preparation of many congresses, I had never seen what happened in those talks.
Rafael Hernández: You had never experienced that…
Yunior García: I had never before been part of a dialogue with such a level of honesty, truthfulness, pain and respect. Everyone, even the most radical ones who had been in hunger strikes like Katherine Bisquet—who was not with the SIM but joined their strike—or Tania Bruguera—who takes an upright, radical, oppositional stance, albeit she defines herself as a leftist—or the members of the SIM who were there, spoke with respect. I also consider that the other side treated us with respect even though the harshest things in the world were said there.
For the first time, I felt that there could be a dialogue between Cubans who thought differently, and that we could do it with respect in order to have results. Most congresses take too long to achieve results, that is, real changes in the decision-making.
Rafael Hernández: Were you at the last UNEAC Congress?
Yunior García: No, I was not, but I kept very close to the process. While in Holguin, I was on the ballot, but in the end they did not elect me, since the situation there was a bit tense at that time. However, I was involved in that process. When the Congress ended, I had to go on a trip, so I left from Holguin on the same bus of the delegates from the provinces of Holguín and Las Tunas. During the whole trip, which is quite long, it takes twelve hours, I was listening to their views and comments; I was quite up to date with the Congress. I wrote about Díaz-Canel’s speech, which seems to me to be the most relevant one he has given ever since he became president, the most complete and the most focused, regardless of whether I may agree or not with some specific points. I perceived in those delegates a feeling of hope; that is to say, they really believed that it had been a great Congress and that there would come solutions to some of the problems facing Cuban culture. Still, one year went by and nothing changed, or worse: I feel, one year later, that our culture is even in a worse situation.
Rafael Hernández: Why?
Yunior García: Why? Because what I felt was, they were not abiding by their words that ‘Culture is the first thing to save’. They were pushing culture more and more into the background, as it seemed that the country had other priorities, which I understand, but other ministers were the ones in charge of things in this field. They placed too much emphasis on an issue that has not yet come to fruition, namely the reform of the monetary and exchange systems. There has been speculation about a possible salary and price increase, and an atmosphere of great tension, regarding the economic situation. Culture has been totally discarded. We artists are possibly the most disadvantaged during the pandemic because, for instance, we have had to suspend concerts and performances and only get 60% [of the salary]. For example, many artists in charge of props for music bands, etc., have not received any salary, even though those bands were subsidized. In short, many people who were not on the payroll were left without a source of income, so this sector has been hard hit by the pandemic. We ourselves have prop staff here from Carlos Celdrán’s troupe, but they have not been able to sign a double contract and are getting only one salary even though they have been doing double work for a long time. One of the actresses in Hembra, for example, was unable to have a double contract either, so she wasn’t getting paid despite the fact that she was working hard with us and with her troupe, for which she was receiving a salary. Simply put, we felt we were very disadvantaged. I believe that culture is not an important issue in the country. I think they underestimated us as a social sector, as something that could wait and was not a pressing matter. I also saw this in the provinces. As a rule, every time the province of Holguín requested a budget for cultural events, they would reply that it was not possible because all the money was going to health care, even if Holguín was neither on lockdown nor in quarantine. We found it all out of proportion, because we all know the conditions of those places that they established for suspected COVID-19 cases, which did not exactly point to huge expenditures. Even activities such as education, which generates expenses, had stopped. Everything was at a standstill in the country, so we did not understand why culture had to sacrifice its budget for something that the country could solve in other ways, at a time when many things stopped in terms of expenses, I mean.
That is why we felt that they were not listening to us, that we were shouting into the void, that we were not a priority, that they were hiding behind the COVID issue to make budget cuts and eliminate certain things that were not a priority or that could even be annoying or inconvenient to the country, God knows, and there was a general state of discomfort.
Rafael Hernández: Were those things you are saying mentioned at the meeting?
Yunior García: No, they were not.
Rafael Hernández: No?
Yunior García: No. We talked about the SIM, the lack of freedoms, excessive censorship, the disproportionate involvement or interference by the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and State Security in matters that the Ministry of Culture could settle, and about violations of the Constitution in terms of freedoms. There were very strong pronouncements against Decree 349. Obviously, there was a catharsis as some people spoke of their personal experiences, their dissatisfaction with the UNEAC Congress, a statement made by the AHS without counting on its membership that gave rise to a scandal because most of the members disagreed with what the statement said about the SIM specifically. We talked particularly about the official media’s excessive attacks against artists who dissent or take a contentious position with their art.
Rafael Hernández: Did anything like that come up at the UNEAC Congress before?
Yunior García: I guess it did.
Rafael Hernández: So you have no idea then.
Yunior García: I don’t know, I guess they discussed these things, maybe not in the tone or with as much fortitude as in that meeting, or as straightforwardly. We are Cubans and we know that everybody is cautious and tries to say things properly when they are in front of the authorities and choose their words carefully, let’s say, and sometimes they are so careful that they embellish their words too much and they fail to speak the naked truth and meet the issue head-on.
Rafael Hernández: Would you say that this 27N meeting was the first time that anything related to freedom of expression in the art and culture was raised?
Yunior García: No, I think it was the first time that people who had never had access to events like UNEAC or AHS congresses, or meetings of this kind, could stand up and state their points of views and their experiences about these issues. From that perspective, I thinkt it was indeed unprecedented.
Rafael Hernández: People who had not been able to be in those events because they were not allowed to?
Yunior García: That’s right, and I am referring specifically, for example, to someone like Tania Bruguera. When the meeting began, she was one of the first to speak, and she started by saying, ‘I thank you, because thanks to you and to what happened this [November] 27th, this is the first time I cross the doors of the Ministry of Culture’.
Rafael Hernández: I see.
Yunior García: Do you perhaps want me to talk about what happened after the meeting?
Rafael Hernández: Yes, of course. But first tell me how you would describe, besides those different guilds, the large number of people who gathered there, including the provocateurs that you mentioned. Were there other people, who were, let’s say, bystanders?
Yunior García: There were even people who were obviously members of the State Security, who were in our group. We identified one who obviously seemed to be State Security; he remained silent, but he was in our midst, within the space where we were gathered. Someone even asked him, ‘Are you from the State Security?’ And he said that he was. In the heat of the moment, someone told him, ‘Well, you have to get out of here’, and I myself stood up and said, ‘Nobody gets out of here, this is a free space. He has as much right to be here as we do. Let’s not ask anyone to leave this area, especially if they are silent and not bothering anyone or doing anything against us; this is a space for tolerance, and we will not exclude anyone’.
Rafael Hernández: What was the role of the independent media at the meeting and within the group that was outside, but above all at the meeting?
Yunior García: At some point there was a confrontation. The independent journalists spoke as such and not necessarily for the media that employed them, but they did speak about the right of independent media to exist in Cuba and be recognized by the government and not to be somehow demonized in the country with labels such as mercenaries, people at the service of a foreign power, or things like that.
There was only one confrontation with a young man named Mauricio, one of the thirty who came in and who worked, I think, for Diario de Cuba. It was between him and Fernando Rojas on the issue of how much Diario de Cuba pays, which is one of Fernando’s particular concerns and something which he has been stressing for a long time, the issue of who pays or who collects. I felt that, in his intervention, Mauricio was speaking like a young journalist who wanted to work for an independent media because he considered that he had more freedom there to express his ideas than in any the official media, and he was defending his right to work as a journalist for that kind of media.
Tania Bruguera’s intervention, for example, was specifically related to the rights to be an independent artist in Cuba or the spaces to work as one. She said the issue should be analyzed somehow, and that those independent artists should have a relationship with the Ministry of Culture itself rather than with the State Security or MININT.
It was a complex evening that brimmed with emotions. When we left he meeting, it was difficult to convince everyone to leave the premises, because some wanted to stay around, but then again, it was each person’s decision. We said that we had concluded the meeting, read the agreements we had reached, and we also said that we had been promised that no one would suffer violence when we returned home, and I believe they kept their word. In my personal case, I live very far from there, but I was perfectly able to get to a friend’s house near the Habana Libre hotel, and I did not see any violence. I did see, for example, as soon as I had arrived at my friend’s house, two black buses parked nearby carrying special troops armed to the teeth, but they did not scare me too much. I said, ‘Well, so much the better if they are here; as long as they do not come knocking at my door to take me away, I am not worried about them being there’.
CUBA AFTER N27
On the following day, however, we did witness those Black Berets and special troops circulating all around Havana. I personally saw it as a sign that, well, it’s true that what happened yesterday can now lead other young people to take to the streets violently and the State is trying to protect and maintain control and order, but it also seemed like a deterrent to any other attempt to repeat what had happened on Friday.
The fact is that we were able to meet at INSTAR, which was one of the agreements we had reached. We decided that at the INSTAR headquarters, which is Tania Bruguera’s turf, the thirty of us were going to meet to agree on the talking points for the meeting they had promised to hold with us. The first day, in the middle of that meeting, there was an incident when a lady from the neighborhood, apparently on her own, tried to make an act of repudiation. She was standing at the street corner and summoning other neighbors, saying, ‘They are badmouthing the Revolution here, let’s get organized and launch an act of repudiation’. But maybe she was misinformed, because she shut up when a police car arrived and there were no more attempts at anything, and we were able to leave that meeting on our own. In fact, I still had no money, so I had to walk a long distance and not a single policeman asked to see my identity card along the way. That is, at that moment I did not feel I was being watched or anything.
Nevertheless, far from toning down or changing its approach to the San Isidro issue, the press coverage—one of the topics that we discussed and one of the agreements that we reached—at least on TV, did exactly the opposite. The attacks [against the SIM] began again, and much fiercer this time over, accusing them of everything, distorting information, showing evidence that was not so, such as the delivery of food supplies to a place where there were fourteen people and where not all of them were on a hunger strike. We felt that the information was being manipulated, especially to belie the hunger strike and demonize the members of the San Isidro group.
At the same time, those in the SIM or others directly related to them posted expressions on the social networks that we considered very painful. I am talking specifically about a live on-site broadcast made by Omara Ruiz Urquiola, my teacher, where she called us traitors, putting what had happened at MINCULT on a level with the Pact of Zanjón, arguing that you do not negotiate with the dictatorship and calling us all traitors. She was openly and directly criticizing the members of the SIM who did enter MINCULT, holding that they were not intellectually qualified to represent them and using many ugly, insulting words. I did not want to respond to that publicly, but privately I told Omara Ruiz Urquiola my opinion, that I did not agree with her, because she had totally missed the point of what had happened there.
After that, Maikel Osorbo also published something, saying that he did not want to hold a dialogue, since he did not see himself represented by the events of November 27, nor did he identify with them.
We began to receive a great deal of solidarity from many young people who wrote to us from different parts of the country. I have many messages that I have not been able to read yet. From outside [Cuba], almost all the messages were, ‘No dialogue, no dialogue, take to the streets’. One of them was even funny, sent by a boy who told me, ‘Hey, no dialogue, this is about fire and violence, take to the streets’, and I asked him, ‘Where are you?», and he replied, ‘In Japan’. So, from abroad it was very easy for them to take a tough stance and say, ‘You lost the streets, you suffered a defeat, dialogue is useless, they are going to manipulate you, you will get nothing but lip service, this is about violence and taking the streets’. So we decided to totally and categorically reject that discourse and stick to the option of dialogue.
At any rate, we knew, especially the members of our group, that being manipulated was always a possibility. I don’t know if it is time for me to say this; I don’t want to reveal many things about the group of thirty because we made a non-disclosure agreement, but there were divisions. We were a very heterogeneous group, most of us were meeting for the first time, we didn’t know each other, there were very different views and it was very difficult to reach an agreement, but I can say a few things.
First of all, I had made it clear that there would be no leaders in the group, there were attempts to build leaderships anyway. In order to eliminate that leadership, it was requested that I should not be the one to keep talking with Fernando and it was decided that any negotiation with Fernando would take place by e-mail. I objected to that plan, which seemed to me strategically absurd. You negotiate either in person or by telephone, but by e-mail? First of all, it makes you look silly. Secondly, it does not give you the possibility to look at each other’s faces or listen to the tone of the conversation to understand the shades of meaning of a phrase. Thirdly, it forces you to wait for an answer for no one knows how long. At some point, I went so far as to tell the group of thirty, ‘Four months from now, in our e-mail number one-hundred-and-eight we will still be discussing the very terms of the meeting’. I even said, ‘When the October Crisis [of 1962], a red telephone hotline was installed precisely to prevent communication from being through couriers or letters’. That is to say, we needed to have direct communication and pay special attention to the tone of the conversation.
Rafael Hernández: What was their argument for you not to be their spokesman anymore?
Yunior García: I guess that it was also for lack of trust, obviously, because they wanted everyone to be there and listen to this kind of conversation, that I should not go alone because it would be like vesting too much power in me or perhaps I could say things that that the others would disagree with. In short, they did not trust me enough, and at the same time others wanted to be the ones in charge of the negotiation.
Rafael Hernández: Do you think they did it for political reasons or simply because they wanted to play a prominent role?
Yunior García: I think it was for all kinds of reasons. We are not a group of politicians. We were a group of young people, most of us with no political experience, trying to engage in a democratic exercise in which we had no experience. An excessive attempt at democracy made the decision-making processes too bureaucratic. At a given moment I said, ‘The day we went to the Ministry, where we had an excellent meeting, we never rehearsed our interventions nor did we split the topics; every one of us said what we thought there. We do not have to put together here a single agenda, nor a single statement or a single point of view. This cannot be monolithic, like the assemblies of the People’s Power. Here we don’t have to vote unanimously for anything, we can bring to that table six, seven agendas representing the diverse interests of a heterogeneous group’. However, the group was trying to build too much unity, which is never possible. Unity is a tricky word sometimes, and I believe that this excessive search for unity was one of the reasons for failure in a group of very different people with many different views.
Another thing that I proposed to the group was that we should try to grow, for the better, with other sectors of society. At some point, even on my own, I was in contact with many other people because I wanted to keep my feet on the ground and not become too much contaminated with the group of thirty, but rather with the people who had elected me, those who were outside the Ministry that day and others across the country. Let’s say, I wanted to know what they thought, as a benchmark.
I even talked with people like Gustavo Arcos, [Roberto] Zurbano, and Lidia and Robertico Ramos from the LGTB movement, to see how our group could be expanded and we could have a more, say, general dialogue, which would not be exclusively about politics, but representative of other areas of the cultural and social reality of the country.
Still, they rejected [my proposal]. They told me that they did not agree with that, that in any case we would accept to be accompanied by someone else, but in their capacity as legal counsel. It seemed fine and appropriate to me. We decided to talk to Julio Antonio Fernández, so that he could be our legal counsel in the meetings and advise us on the final document. He would also attend the meeting with us. They objected to the other people that I had proposed, although I did talk to them and listened to their opinions.
Eventually the situation became increasingly tense. I did not want to stop working either. Despite all this, I did not want the performances of Hembra to be suspended. Right on November 27 I had a performance, so I asked the actresses who were there at the Ministry to come to the theater, do their performance and then return to the Ministry, and so they did. In no way did I want to stop being an artist, even if I was, I know, taking on a political role at that time.
Among the thirty, there were clear divisions and diametrically opposed viewpoints. I myself, who had taken a moderate stand, was eventually at a complete loss in the middle of a series of demands that seemed to have no objective direction or purpose. At some point I made perhaps the most radical of all the suggestions made there, namely to hold a plebiscite. That is, if we were worried about so many things beyond culture; if repealing a decree would not change anything in Cuba, I decided to say, ‘Well, since we have so many concerns, let’s hold a plebiscite, let’s call a constitutional referendum’. They refused my suggestion for being too radical. I was glad in the end, because one of the things they were saying was, ‘There was already a constitutional reform last year; so getting involved in another process now will wear people out’. On the other hand, I told them, ‘Okay, other previous projects failed because the circumstances were not right. I was thinking, say, of the Varela Project, which failed because the time was not ripe and the move lacked support, since the Cuban people knew absolutely nothing about the Project.
That is how last year’s Constitution was approved, with that number of votes, and I do believe it was legal, by the great majority. Then again, the game was not entirely fair, because there was an excessive display of support for the «yes» vote, and there were severely repressive actions against those who advocated voting «no». They even arrested some people for wearing a T-shirt that said «No”. I remarked, ‘The rules of the game are different today, so maybe now a constitutional reform will have different results, or at least the numbers will vary and we will really see how many people in Cuban society think one way or another’. However, in the end they discarded that option.
Thursday [December 3] came, and it was the most difficult day. On Thursday morning, we had not reached an agreement yet. We had a thousand different opinions within the thirty. They sent an e-mail that I never really read, although it bore my signature. I was totally against the e-mail option, because I knew how things could turn out.
Rafael Hernández: An e-mail to the Ministry of Culture?
Yunior García: Yes, to the Ministry of Culture, to an address that Fernando had given to me. I was convinced that the Ministry, the government—since this is not a decision of the Ministry, these are decisions made at the level of the Communist Party, not by the minister but by the Political Bureau. I was convinced that they did not want that dialogue, at least that particular dialogue. That is, to meet with those thirty people to discuss those issues. They were going to come up with any excuse to break talks. What I thought was that we needed to stick as much as possible to what we had agreed that day.
When the thirty asked other members of the SIM who were not present on the 27th to join the group, I saw it as the perfect excuse that the government needed to nip the talks in the bud. However, the whole group was showing great enthusiasm—exaggerated and too passionate, if you ask me—about the figure of Luis Manuel Otero and other members of the SIM, against whom I have absolutely nothing, but my priority was dialogue. I told them, ‘The issue here is not the SIM or Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, but Cuba and other concerns we have, which are even bigger than us as a group’, Still, the vast majority of them said no, claiming that they were even willing to give up their place so that members of the SIM could go in the Ministry. By Wednesday evening I had realized that the radical elements far outnumbered the rest of us, which was by no means what we had agreed on the 27th. I was willing to cross swords with MINCULT so that Tania Bruguera could be at the meeting, because I considered her presence legitimate in light of what had happened on the 27th—if she was there that day, why not this time, too?—but not for other people, because that was never part of our agreement. The request was legitimate for the first negotiation, but not a condition to meet. It was something we could raise in a negotiation, and not by e-mail. That was my position.
On Thursday morning, and beset by uncertainty, I read the Ministry’s statement. I was not surprised, I knew they were going to use that e-mail to say that we ourselves had broken off the dialogue, even if it was just a first proposal, that is, a first negotiable proposal. But they saw it and took it as too demanding, presumptuous, offensive, overbearing and what have you. Such was MINCULT’s totally foreseeable decision.
When my girlfriend left the apartment, there was a man about two meters tall sitting on a small chair by the entrance to the building. As she turned the corner, this man apparently called her on the phone and told her, ‘Dayana, this is agent Jordan speaking, are you far from here?’ Dayana got scared, hung up on him and called me. She said, ‘Yunior, I’ve just got a call from a man that I think I saw on the ground floor of the building’. I got dressed at once and went downstairs, where this gentleman stood up and told me, ‘No, you can’t come out’. I made a video recording: do you want me to show it to you? I am going to show it to you, so you can see.
Rafael Hernández: Show me. What day was that, Thursday?
Yunior García: Let me see… yes, it was Friday.
Rafael Hernández: It was there in [Yunior’s neighborhood] La Coronela, right?
Yunior García: Yes. I have not made this video public because… I will tell you now…
Rafael Hernández: Where were you going that day?
Yunior García: To find my girlfriend Dayana. She was at the corner, frightened, and I told her, ‘Wait for me there, I’m coming for you’. I wanted to check whether that man was there for me or for any other reason.
Rafael Hernández: But did you have plans to meet that day?
Yunior García: Yes, that day I was supposed to meet with the thirty and, besides that, I had to catch up with the theater troupe.
Rafael Hernández: That was on Thursday.
Yunior García: On Thursday, yes. Here is the video recording; it is one minute and nineteen seconds long, more or less. I was holding my cell in my hand, so I could not make a proper recording, I did not get the officer’s face while he was sitting on the chair. Do you want me to tell you what he says?
Rafael Hernández: Yes, tell me.
Yunior García: Okay. What he told me was that I could not leave the house. I asked him for how long, and he answered, ‘For the whole day, until I say otherwise’. I went, ‘But I have a job, I have to be at the theater for today’s performance!’ He repeated, ‘You may not leave the house’. I asked him, ‘Who are you?’, and he said his name was Jordan, and then I asked him whether he was with State Security. His reply was that he was with the people of Cuba.
I went upstairs at once and called Fernando Rojas, but he would not pick up the phone. About ten minutes later, however, I received a call from Lillitzi [Hernandez], the vice president of the Performing Arts Division, and she told me, ‘Fernando is in a meeting, he saw you were calling but he could not take the call, so he asked me to do it. Tell me what’s going on’. I told her what was happening, and she said she would take care of it. I called two or three friends on my own, sent them the video and told them, ‘This is happening to me’. Someone from the group of thirty called me and said, ‘Send us the video right now to post it on one of the networks of the independent publications’. I refused and told him that I was going to think about it, since I did not want to make the recording public yet. At that moment, they cut off my mobile data, so I no longer had an Internet connection, even though I still had credit. A minute later, I could not make calls either. Whenever I tried to call someone, a recording said, ‘Network unavailable’. That is, no network access. They also cut off my landline and my girlfriend Dayana’s cell line. I had time to call a few people anyway, including Carlos Celdrán and two or three friends, and to send an audio recording to a WhatsApp group of about four hundred members to tell them what was happening. They eventually posted my audio recording on Facebook.
The thing is that at about five o’clock in the afternoon an officer called me. I have never told anybody about this, you are the first to know. A State Security officer called me, apparently a high-ranking one, and asked whether we could talk. I told him that I could not leave, that I was not allowed to go out, and he told me that it had been a mistake. The fact is that he went there to see me. It seems that he ordered Jordan, the agent downstairs, to leave from there. Then he apologized to me, saying that they were wrong, that they knew that I was not a mercenary, nor paid by the Empire, and that it had been a mistake to prevent me from leaving the house.
Five minutes later, Lillitzi, the vice-president, came to pick me up in a car and take me to Argos Teatro. We had our performance, and once it was over she told me that the Minister was inviting me to a meeting at MINCULT the following day. I immediately turned down the offer.
Why did I do it, why did I choose not to go there? For starters, because that was not the kind of dialogue that we had agreed on the 27th, neither with those people over there nor with those on our side. I felt that I would be stabbing the group in the back. Despite all my differences and disagreements with the group of thirty, I saw it as an act of betrayal against what we had been working on together for a whole week. That is why I decided not to go. Besides, it seemed to me that it was going to be a staging, not unlike all those congresses, just a place to listen to people’s opinions and give themachance to let off some steam without making any decision in the end. Furthermore, they could have planned to bring people who they know are pro-order just to shout at the end ‘Long live the Revolution’ and that kind of things they they say in those congresses. Then we would see huge news headlines saying, ‘The dialogue happened, it was among revolutionaries, and everybody supports the process as is’. And that is what happened, and the reason that I am glad today that I was not there, because they would have used me for that purpose. That is, they would have manipulated me again.
A lot of things have been said. Juan Pin [Vilar] has just published a text telling everything on Facebook. Some in the group of thirty disagree with Juan Pin’s narrative, and I keep telling them that he just saw it that way. Everyone can publish their own vision of the facts, and then they will be contrasted.
Rafael Hernández: Do you agree with Juan Pin’s text?
Yunior García: I do with most of it, not so much with some specific details. But then again, that was his opinion about the whole thing.
There was another controversial fact. When I found myself incommunicado, before they cut off my girlfriend’s phone line, I had time to send a message to Juan Pin because I had seen that the group’s chats had become a little bit heated after Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara came into the picture. He was already saying that he was going to take part in the dialogue in his own right, and others said, ‘If Luis Manuel Otero cannot be there, we will dig our heels there and refuse to leave’. I thought that they were overstepping the bounds of the agreements. Before they cut off my line, I sent a message to Juan Pin, telling him, ‘I disapprove of my signature being on that statement without my permission. Let it be quite clear that I am not part of the SIM, that my agenda is not the agenda of the SIM’. My statement was posted on Facebook, and it received a lot of attacks. I have been under attack for a long time anyway, so they do not affect me. I know they will come from both sides and that my words met with plenty of rejection within the group of the thirty. Even today they are asking me to tell Juan Pin to delete that post, but I do not want to have it deleted because it is historical. Just as Omara Ruiz Urquiola has kept the post with her words in the aftermath of the 27th, so too will mine be there. People have already seen it and it has already echoed in other media, so there is no point in taking it out. If it was a mistake, I am willing to own up to it.
I am still thinking about it, since many friends and many people have called me and talked with me. In these days I could attend the opening of the Film Festival, I was invited and went there on Thursday evening.
Rafael Hernández: Were you there?
Yunior García: Let me see… Thursday… when was the opening? I think it was on Thursday [December 3].
Rafael Hernández: I did not go.
Yunior García: Yes, I could be in the opening of the Film Festival without a hitch. I was twenty meters away from the Minister, but I decided not to approach him because we were awaiting a negotiation with him. I did not have to ask him at that moment, I would simply wait for an answer, and everything went smoothly. Many artists came up to me, especially from the world of cinema, to state their solidarity and support, sometimes from slightly different perspectives, but making it clear that they did not support the SIM either.
In short, I believe that the issue of San Isidro has pervaded the great debates of these days and it is time to leave it behind. While the SIM was one of the causes that we fought for, it was not the main focus of attention, just one part of it. By solving the plights that we see as problems of society as a whole, we are automatically solving those of the SIM. However, it could be dangerous to fight under their banner because not all of us agree with their strategies and, above all else, with their ways of doing things.
One of the things I would tell the group members was, ‘I am not interested in being a headline or putting on a show; I am not interested in Otaola-style politics. I want us to be serious about this and to be taken seriously’. But the thing is that most of us were just young people with no political experience, artists on an ego trip, something that even I recognize, there is some ego on my part, and we were dealing with a very complicated matter.
Right this minute, as we speak, I am still one of the thirty, even if I do not know if it still makes sense to be part of a group that has already lost its bearings. We no longer have a dialogue, nor there will be one. It bothers me because, our differences notwithstanding, I felt empathy with many of the people there. I am not even sure any more that I want to continue being part of UNEAC. I am a member, but I feel that UNEAC betrayed me, not so the Performing Arts Council, whose support I still have, even that of its officials, including Fernando Rojas. Although we are in opposing teams, he has treated me with respect and my play has continued on stage. Lillitzi, the vice-president, has kept her distance, but she has afforded me some protection. She is willing to protect me as an artist, and I have not received that from UNEAC. I do not know if it makes sense for me to continue being a member of UNEAC.
REVIEWING PRESENT PROBLEMS AND THE FUTURE
Rafael Hernández: What if UNEAC called for a dialogue about all these issues, namely about the artists’ freedom of expression since, in the final analysis, that is the bottom line?
Yunior García: Yes. I did not go to yesterday’s meeting because of the specific context in which it took place.
Rafael Hernández: I see.
Yunior García: Nevertheless, I am still in favor of having a dialogue. I said no yesterday for specific, ethical and circumstantial reasons, but from now on, I am fully open to a dialogue with any authority. I had to be quick to make it clear to some international media, particularly a few days ago in an interview for Turkish television and another for The New York Times, that our group is by no means planning to stage a coup d’état, ‘soft’ or otherwise. At least, that is how I see it. I accept neither donations from nor interference by any foreign government, and I say this because many governments have stated their willingness to do either. The U.S. government has just approved one million dollars, this very day I think, to support artistic works related to political freedoms in Cuba. I think it is a mistake. I believe the group entertained the idea. ‘What do we do, do we accept donations?’ I told them loud and clear, ‘If you take a penny, I am out’, because everything is very difficult now, and they will try to manipulate by whatever means possible.
But with respect to what you say, I am perfectly willing to sit down with anyone.
Rafael Hernández: Don’t you think that the theater has been a space for political debate in recent years? I, as a simple theatergoer, find that it is perhaps the most open space to present ideas. I am not questioning what you say about censorship, I have no doubt about it, but at the same time, my impression is that theater as a space allows a great deal of leeway to put forward issues and ideas with political connotation. Do you see it that way or not?
Yunior García: Yes, yes, I agree. I feel that the freedom we have, for example, in the theater, is something unthinkable on television. I have worked for television, I have written scripts; right now I am writing a novela that I do not know whether they will approve or not after this. But television has by far much less freedom to address issues related to the Cuban reality.
I have certainly defended the theater. One of the things I say is, ‘I am free’, unless otherise proven, and I walk around as if I were free. I am going to write without any self-censorship. I am going to write the grandest things there and then I will assess the tones and nuances and what have you by myself, without letting anyone telling me ‘change that word’. If I change anything, it will be my decision and on my own volition.
That is how I see it, although there is a catch, an old catch in Cuba. I do not know from when or where, especially among people with more experience who come to you and say, ‘If you have the chance to do that in theaters, use the stage and confine yourself to it; do not look elsewhere, you do not need to be talking about politics, you are not a politician but a playwright, so say whatever you have to say through your plays’. I see it as a catch, and I wonder what Martí would have replied if he had been told the same thing: ‘Martí, how well you write, you are an excellent poet, your plays are very good, speak through them’, or what Lorca would have said in that case.
Of course, that is my fundamental tool, I am first and foremost a playwright, and I do it that way. I have always used my plays to say all those things, but there is more beyond that. I am also a citizen of a country. There are times when I have to speak as a playwright and other times as a citizen. In that connection, I refuse to walk into that trap and restrict myself to having my say on the stage just because I happen to be a good playwright.
Rafael Hernández: Of course.
Yunior García: I do not know whether I talked too much.
Rafael Hernández: Thank you for your candor and your trust. It is extremely useful to me to have your viewpoint from where you stand.
There is no question that this is a difficult process, and costly at that, because every meaningful thing is worth striving for. Perhaps this is all about something that you mentioned, the capacity to really place oneself in a position of dialogue and negotiation. Which leads me precisely to my last question: did the two parties make any compromises?
Yunior García: Yes, during the first negotiation there were.
Rafael Hernández: Did you?
Yunior García: For instance, we gave in to their requests about letting only thirty of us in the Ministry and about going in without TV cameras or cell phones, and we made good on our word. None of us recorded anything of what we talked about that evening, nor did any of us sneak a cell phone into the meeting in their pocket or anything like that. We yielded in both instances.
I also believe that we were willing to give in. That first e-mail that the group sent, which was taken as a final condition, was a statement of our willingness to yield.
Personally, I was not willing to have anyone removed from the initial list, but accepting the presence of these new members or not was negotiable, not a final condition. The presence of [President] Díaz-Canel in the meeting was negotiable, not a final condition, as it were. We were certainly willing to make concessions, except that we wasted the opportunity to do so when we chose to send an e-mail. That was a big mistake.
Rafael Hernández: Did you notice whether MINCULT or the other institutions were also willing to negotiate?
Yunior García: I have no complaints in that respect. Fernando kept calling me and insisting all the time.
However, even though Fernando and I were really talking, I know how things are at the Ministry. I knew that it was not the Ministry’s decision to make and that it was politically inconvenient for both the government and the Party in this country to allow the kind of dialogue that we were requesting.
Rafael Hernández: What about the fact that in the end everybody could go in the Ministry, for example?
Yunior García: Yes, but we were under a lot of pressure that day.
Rafael Hernández: But for example, was it a concession that they allowed Tania Bruguera to be there or not?
Yunior García: Yes, that was the last condition they stipulated, and I refused. Fernando’s final condition was, ‘I want Tania out’. Are we talking about the 27th?
Rafael Hernández: So he made a concession.
Yunior García: Yes, yes.
Rafael Hernández: He accepted her.
Yunior García: Yes, he did.
Rafael Hernández: And he accepted to talk about all the items on your agenda.
Yunior García: Yes.
Rafael Hernández: In fact, accepting to discuss San Isidro is accepting something that they did not want to do.
Yunior García: Yes. There were many concessions that day, mainly on the part of the government, because Fernando was not the one who was making the decisions. On the part of the government there were many concessions.
There was something, however, that Fernando told me afterward in a phone call and that I understood very clearly. I had told him, ‘Fernando, but if she [Tania] went in that day, why can’t she be there this time too?’ And he said, ‘It is just not the same thing’. Obviously, I understood that we were talking about the five hundred people or so who were outside, carrying international cameras and bringing pressure to bear on the Ministry.
For this second negotiation we had lost the social pressure factor. Having five hundred people out there, recording us, with Fernando Pérez on our side, meant that we were no longer in the same position to negotiate, and we had to be able to recognize that this time we had to give in much more because we were at a disadvantage.
Rafael Hernández: What do you think of the group that came up with the tángana at Trillo Park? Do you know them?
Yunior García: No.
Rafael Hernández: Do you have any idea who they are?
Yunior García: No, I do not know them. I have read some posts on Facebook and I believe in those things. I run a podcast every Saturday, called El enjambre (The Swarm), and I talked about that online yesterday. I think it may have been a perfectly spontaneous idea at the beginning that ocurred to some young people who are committed to the process. What I think is that things got out of hand. Once the activity fell into the hands of the institutions, and I mean the Federation of University Students (FEU) and others at higher levels, which are all rusty, they killed the effort. I believe that Cuba suffers from a huge organizational crisis, from a lack of good cadre and from a great deal of mediocrity. Besides—and I am going to use a word which is not scientific—there is a lot of chealdá. These are very ‘uncool’ organizations. When those who came up with the idea lost their freedom of action and the initiative fell into institutional hands, it lost all meaning and became what we saw in the end, that is, a factory of memes and the butt of many people’s jokes, at least in the social networks, which is my turf.
Sometimes you also live in a bubble, because you are with your friends and you follow them, as you are all more or less of the same mind, and you think that yours is the only truth there is. Sometimes you have to get out of that bubble and see other ideas. But what I have seen [on TV] gave rise to a meme factory.
Rafael Hernández: I intend to meet with [those who were at Parque Trillo] the day after tomorrow precisely because I would like to get their own views about what happened, what they wanted to do and what they think about the outcome.
Yunior García: I think it is as legitimate as what we did. The thing is that we did not let ourselves be robbed of our initiative and spontaneity, leaving aside the fact that some people were there for purposes of manipulation and appropriation, to win their spurs and climb on the bandwagon of the moment.
Rafael Hernández: Yes, of course.
Yunior García: On our end, we managed to be always on top of the situation, even if we somehow lost the initiative afterward with the group of the thirty. I like what I saw on the 27th better than what happened before and after, but at least that day we did not let them take the initiative away from us.
Rafael Hernández: Thank you.
 «Anatomía del 27N cubano y su circunstancia», Nueva Sociedad, enero 2021. https://nuso.org/articulo/anatomia-del-27n-cubano-y-su-circunstancia/
 «A propósito de una manifestación», OnCuba, octubre 27, 2021. https://oncubanews.com/opinion/columnas/con-todas-sus-letras/a-proposito-de-una-manifestacion/
 «Protestas en Cuba», Foreign Affairs Latinoamerica, FAL 21-4, septiembre 2021. (https://revistafal.com/fal-21-4/). Entrevistas: «Desafíos del consenso. Política», Alma Mater, agosto 25, 2021 (https://medium.com/revista-alma-mater/desaf%C3%ADos-del-consenso-pol%C3%ADtica-812e6493746c); «Debate en torno a los hechos del 11 de julio: Desafíos sociales y políticos», Cubadebate, agosto 12, 2021 (http://www.cubadebate.cu/especiales/2021/08/12/debate-en-torno-a-los-hechos-del-11-de-julio-desafios-sociales-y-politicos-podcast/)
Traductor: Jesús Bran
 A rally-like noise-making excitement, usually to celebrate something by playing music and chanting slogans (T.N.)
 The treaty that ended the armed struggle of Cubans for Independence from Spain between 1868 and 1878, known as the Ten Years’ War (T.N.)
 Cuban slang for someone or something that is not cool, hip, savvy, etc. (T.N.)