The Somos+ (We Are More) opposition movement held its national convention Thursday, despite the arrest of several participants and a strong police operation around its site in Havana. The home of Eliecer Avila, leader of the organization, was surrounded by several police patrols at dawn, and only those who entered the home several hours or days earlier were able to attend.
Despite the obstacles, Somos+ issued a statement announcing,”We are holding the convention!” The activists were referring to a meeting held on January 14 to decide on the program ahead of time. The speeches, lectures and presentations were digitized to be able to project them in case their protagonists were not able to arrive at the site.
Groups of government sympathizers, dressed in plain clothes, threateningly warned off any curious person who wanted to take pictures around the site, or access the house on Esperanza Street in the Cerro district, where the event took place.
According to Pedro Acosta, who was prevented from reaching Avila’s house, the police deployment included several patrol cars and motorcycles. “I was surprised by this display of police force, because I hadn’t noticed any abnormal situation in the neighborhood.” A motorcycle with a sidecar stopped next to Acosta to ask for his identify card. When he said he wasn’t carrying it, the police ordered him, “Get in, citizen!” In the vehicle, they drove along several streets in Havana and let him out on 26 th Avenue. “And this?” Acosta asked them, continuing his story, “They started up and the one driving addressed me for the first time telling me that next time I wouldn’t forget my ID card.”
At seven in the evening the siege on Avila’s house continues, according to what he himself told Acosta by phone.
The police also intercepted Angel Santiesteban and prevented him from reaching the house, said Avila.
In the text released this Thursday, the leadership of Somos+ explains that they tried to rent a space for their most important annual meeting. However, those in charge of the locales – both state and private – were intimidated by State Security and so would not rent to them.
Several members of the movement who live outside the capital were threatened and, in several cases, arrested to prevent them from traveling to Havana. Among these was Johana Columbie, who lives in Camaguey and who, with police stationed outside her house, sent a letter to the convention ensuring them that the recent events, rather than frightening her, had given her “strength to continue.”
Other activists such as Alexey Games and Franky Rojas received police summonses received this morning, while the movement coordinator in the province of Las Tunas, Pedro Escalona, was arrested and released just a few hours ago.
Eliecer Avila and Manuel Diaz Mons, general coordinator of Somos+ were arbitrarily detained and warned not to hold the convention.
On its digital page, the movement thanked Amnesty International – in particular Louise Tillotson, investigator for Cuba and the Caribbean – for having contacted their members and for showing concern in the face of the latest developments.
The convention had as its central theme “how to live with the internet in Cuba so as not to have to emigrate, not to have to jump into the sea, or cross so many borders, without having the power within Cuba to run businesses, labor cooperatives, produce resources,” according to Avila.