CubaBrief: Sixty years ago today Castro declared to artists and intellectuals ‘Within the revolution, everything; outside of it, nothing,’ and the dictatorship continues to jail free thinkers today.

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Human rights activist and mother of three Thais Mailén Franco arrested on Obispo street on April 30, 2021, and jailed since then.

On June 30, 1961 Fidel Castro gave his speech to [Cuba’s] intellectuals where he summed up the limits of artistic expression: ‘Within the revolution, everything; outside of it, nothing,’ he told intellectuals and artists. Nearly a decade later on April 27, 1971 the case of Heberto Padilla underscored the limits of artistic expression in Cuba.

Index on Censorship described the aftermath of Padilla’s interrogation and self-criticism stating, “whatever the reason for his confession, it served as a harbinger of what was to follow: a period known as the Grey Five Years in which dozens of Cuban artists and writers were banished from public life.” This was how intellectuals and artists would be dealt with who strayed out of the prescribed limits imposed by the Castro regime.

The war on artistic freedom is not unique to the Castro regime, or a mistake, but a feature of communist and fascist systems. Totalitarians have had a hostile relationship with the arts, and with artists seeking to control them. In the Soviet Union modern art was declared subversive by Josef Stalin, and socialist realism with an optimistic tone the politically correct style. Artists destroyed or hid their work that did not accord with the new aesthetic. In Nazi Germany, modern art was declared degenerate and a style that mirrored in appearance their Soviet counterparts, and repression was visited upon artists that did not adhere to the official style.

Sixty years after Castro’s infamous speech and Cuban artists and intellectuals are persecuted and jailed for advocating for greater political and artistic freedom on the island.

Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida being held by secret police in Villa Marista.

Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida being held by secret police in Villa Marista.

Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida, “a member of Cuba’s 27N movement of artists, journalists, and activists who advocate for greater political and artistic freedom on the island, was arrested on 26 June after returning to the island from an artist’s residency in Germany, according to 27N members”, reported The Art Newspaper on June 28, 2021. “PEN America and PEN International [on June 28, 2021] condemned the detention of Cuban visual artist and activist Hamlet Lavastida, calling his abrupt imprisonment following a residency abroad an unjust, disturbing representation of the alarming government culture of hostility toward dissenting artists in Cuba,” declared the organizations that defend free expression in a joint statement.

On May 18, 2021 Cuban authorities arrested and detained rapper and activist Maykel Castillo. On June 18th, the one month mark of this arbitrary detention, “PEN America, along with CADAL, the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America, condemned the Cuban authorities for their arbitrary detention of Castillo and called for his immediate release.” Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America stated, “the fact that Castillo has been kept in prison for more than a month—and that his family, friends, and supporters have been kept in the dark as to his condition and the reasons for his arbitrary detention—is simply unacceptable.”  Today, June 30th marks 36 days disappeared and jailed for saying what he thinks.

37 years ago the 1984 documentary Improper Conduct outlined how Cuban artists that did not conform, or were deemed to be engaged in “extravagant behavior” were sent to work camps or forced into exile by the Castro regime. The repressive nature of the dictatorship has not changed.

Amnesty International is circulating a petition in Spanish for signatures calling on Havana to end its harassment of artists, and today at 7:00pm the San Isidro Movement is calling to Tweet out to free those arrested on Obispo Street with the hashtag #LiberenALosDeObispo with the following statement over Twitter on June 28, 2021 with the attached image.

“No one should be deprived of liberty for defending their rights and expressing themselves in the face of injustice. Let us demand this Wednesday # 30Jun that #LiberenALosDeObispo and all those who have been unjustly detained for defending the rights that the Cuban dictatorship constantly violates.”

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The Art Newspaper, June 28, 2021

Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida, a vocal critic of the government’s suppression of artistic freedom, arrested on return from artist residency in Germany

The 27N member’s colleagues believe he may have been tried in absentia for subverting the Cuban government.

Daniel Cassady

28th June 2021

Hamlet Lavastida Facebook

Hamlet Lavastida Facebook

The artist Hamlet Lavastida, a member of Cuba’s 27N movement of artists, journalists, and activists who advocate for greater political and artistic freedom on the island, was arrested on 26 June after returning to the island from an artist’s residency in Germany, according to 27N members.

Lavastida touched down on the island on 20 June, and, following Cuban government Covid-19 protocol, was sent to a confinement centre to quarantine for five days. On the evening of sixth day, as Lavastida was set to be released, his mother received a phone call from the Cuban security service, who told her the artist had been detained, was “under investigation”, and would be held in Havana’s Villa Marista prison despite the fact that charges had not been filed against him, multiple sources told The Art Newspaper.

Lavastida has been an outspoken critic of the Cuban government’s harsh treatment of artists and intellectuals and the lack of freedom of expression on the island. He was a vocal supporter of the artist Luis Manel Ortero Alcántra, who was recently detained and hospitalised against his will by the Cuban security service eight days into a hunger strike calling for free speech and artistic freedom on the island. Lavastida’s work often reappropriates the language and imagery associated with the political propaganda so accepted as part of the Cuban identity but that, for Cuban citizens and especially artists, means police interrogations, the inability to ask questions and “microtactics of control”.

These tactics have been well documented by human rights organisations in the past, especially since the creation of the San Isidro Movement, an ally and predecessor of 27N. “Cuban authorities have shamelessly carried out an ongoing attack on freedom of expression for years. Independent artists and their supporters have faced arrests, surveillance, harassment and intimidation by the authorities, solely because of their artistic expression. We urge Cuban authorities to stop stifling them and instead, take action to guarantee freedom of expression in the country”, says Elina Castillo Jiménez, Caribbean Campaigner at Amnesty International.

Cultura Profiláctica, Lavastida’s solo exhibition at Künstlerhaus Bethanien gallery in Berlin where he was the in residency supported by the Kfw Stiftung foundation, consists of two large scale installations made of paper cutouts, including a massive transcript of a police interrogation of Cuban photographer Javier Caso from 2020 combined with a letter written by Cuban poet Herberto Padilla in which he was forced to denounce his own work as counterrevolutionary after a brutal 36 days of imprisonment.

Some of his 27N colleagues, who have not heard from him since his arrest, worry that he could be kept in police custody or worse under the 1999 Law of Protection of the National and Economy Independence of Cuba (Law 88). Meant to strengthen the US embargo of Cuba, Law 88 allows for sanctions against “those actions that in accordance with imperialist interests seek to subvert the internal order of the Nation and destroy its political, economic and social system” according to Diario de Cuba.

The law can be applied to Cuban nationals regardless of whether they are in the country, meaning Lavastida was vulnerable during his German residency. Prosecutor José Luis Reyes Blanco, a department head in the Criminal Proceedings Directorate of the Attorney General’s Office, said on the Cuban television show Hacemos Cuba (We Make Cuba) the law allows for “the trial of people who are not in the country. Those individuals who fund, convene or coordinate these actions may be prosecuted in absentia”, according to the Miami HeraldIf that’s the case, Lavastida may have been found guilty of trying to dismantle the Cuban government before his plane landed in Havana.

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/cuban-artist-hamlet-lavastida-a-vocal-critic-of-the-government-s-suppression-of-artistic-freedom-arrested-on-return-from-artist-residency-in-germany

News and Record, June 28, 2021

BOTTOM LINE: REBUTTALS AND REACTIONS

Rafael Rivero: How to end the suffering in Cuba

By Rafael Rivero

Regarding the column “End the Suffering in Cuba” by the Rev. Thomas I. Warren and Kimberly G. Miller (June 22):

To end the suffering in Cuba all you have to do is get rid of the Castro dictatorship, which has for 62 long years deprived all Cubans of their basic rights, divided families, confiscated property and businesses, forced into exile 10% of the population, and impoverished the country.

The Cuban government is responsible for there being no human rights there, no freedom of speech, no democratic elections.

There are thousands of political prisoners in Cuba and thousands of executions.

There also are drownings at sea on homemade rafts by people trying to escape this dictatorship.

In 1959, Cuba was the top world exporter of sugar (today it has to import sugar from France), second-largest exporter of tobacco, the fifth-largest exporter of nickel and self-sufficient in produce and meat. Cuba exported shoes to Italy and beef to the United Kingdom and had the third-highest income per capita in Latin America and the 40th in the world. Today, under this failed socialist government, Cuba has to import 70% of the food it consumes. After 62 years of socialism, the average income in Cuba is $20 a month, well below the dollar a day set by the World Bank as the lowest level of subsistence.

Cuba has traded with many countries since 1959 (Russia, Spain, Canada, Mexico, Italy, China, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Vietnam). The reason it lacks necessities for its people is because it owes those countries trillions of dollars, doesn’t pay its bills and has nothing to export or trade because the factories and businesses the Castro dictatorship stole from citizens have been run into the ground.

The failed government in Cuba hates the U.S. with a passion and everything this great land represents: freedom, democracy and the ability through hard work to obtain anything you want and need. What the Rev. Warren and the Castro government want is for the U.S. to warm relations again so cruise ships and flights full of American tourists spend millions of dollars in Cuba.

These are dollars the government would steal and that would not go to the welfare and necessities of the Cuban citizens. I’m glad the U.S. voted against lifting the embargo and thus vetoed ending it. The only embargo that causes Cuban citizens to suffer is the Castro dictatorship of 62 years.

The writer lives in Greensboro.

https://greensboro.com/rafael-rivero-how-to-end-the-suffering-in-cuba/article_142c5e0c-d83a-11eb-8114-afb732c7b20e.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=user-share

PEN International, June 28, 2021

Cuba: Hamlet Lavastida Abruptly Imprisoned

Monday 28 June 2021

Hamlet Lavastida A Cuban Artist

Hamlet Lavastida A Cuban Artist

EN America and PEN International demand his immediate release; part of broader crackdown on artistic expression

28 June 2021 – New York, NY /London, UK — PEN America and PEN International today condemned the detention of Cuban visual artist and activist Hamlet Lavastida, calling his abrupt imprisonment following a residency abroad an unjust, disturbing representation of the alarming government culture of hostility toward dissenting artists in Cuba.

“The sole reason for Lavastida’s detention is his art, which challenges the political and historical narratives created by the Cuban state,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) program at PEN America. “Again and again, Cuban authorities have demonstrated a chilling lack of respect for freedom of artistic expression, not to mention basic human rights and the rule of law. The authorities continue to detain artists without offering any concrete charge and refuse to communicate any information with their loved ones. Our hearts go out to Lavastida’s family and friends. We demand his unconditional release and that his human rights be respected.”

Lavastida returned to Cuba June 21 following a temporary residency at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Germany, and completed a mandated quarantine at a center in Havana. His girlfriend, Cuban poet Katherine Bisquet, told PEN International that Lavastida called her on the sixth day of quarantine and said that state security forces had arrived at the facility. At 11pm that night, Lavastida’s mother received a call from an agent to inform her that her son was being held at Villa Marista, a high-security prison notorious for the detention of political prisoners. They have not received any updates since. Bisquet, artist Camila Lobón, and independent journalist Héctor Valdés Cocho, were also detained for several hours yesterday by authorities.

“Many writers, journalists, and artists have recently been threatened, attacked or imprisoned by the Cuban authorities. These actions, which attempt to silence dissident voices, demonstrate that Cuba does not respect its obligations as a state that allows freedom of expression, artistic freedom, and the right to participate in cultural life,” said Romana Cacchioli, executive director of PEN International. “PEN remains vigilant of the situation of artists and writers on the island and we reiterate our call for the Cuban authorities to immediately cease this systematic harassment of critical and independent thought.”

Lavastida has been among the most active voices from outside the country in his denunciations against repression on the island, even joining the 27N platform, made up mainly of artists and intellectuals who demand democratic changes and respect for human rights in Cuba. One of his most recent demonstrations took place May 29, in Berlin, when a group of Cubans protested peacefully to demand the freedom of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the Obispo protesters.

This most recent spate of detentions underscores the Cuban government’s recent crackdown on freedom of expression, and artists in particular. In 2019, ARC released a report, Art Under Pressure, detailing the effect of Decree 349, a regulation that gives authorities wide remit to limit the cultural sector on artists and activists in Cuba.

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.

https://pen-international.org/news/cuba-hamlet-lavastida-abruptly-imprisoned


In case you missed it.

Pen America, June 18, 2021

PEN America Demands Immediate Release of Cuban Rapper and Activist

Authorities arrested Maykel Castillo exactly one month ago

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June 18, 2021

(New York, NY) — Exactly one month ago, Cuban authorities arrested and detained rapper and activist Maykel Castillo. Today, PEN America, along with CADAL, the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America, condemned the Cuban authorities for their arbitrary detention of Castillo and called for his immediate release.

“The fact that Castillo has been kept in prison for more than a month—and that his family, friends, and supporters have been kept in the dark as to his condition and the reasons for his arbitrary detention—is simply unacceptable,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Our hearts go out to his family and friends, and we condemn this callous disregard for basic human dignity and rule of law. Castillo has faced repeated attacks, detentions, and harassment for more than a year, simply for expressing his creativity and using his platform as an artist. This is yet another distressing development in Cuba’s assault on artistic freedom of expression—and artists themselves.”  

“We condemn the growing persecution of independent artists for the mere fact of expressing their political dissent. Freedom of expression and artistic freedom are fundamental human rights and should not be criminalized. We demand the release of musician Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo,” said Cecilia Noce, freedom of artistic expression defense project coordinator at CADAL.

Castillo disappeared on May 18, his whereabouts unknown. News outlets later reported that he had been held in custody and transferred to Pinar del Río provincial prison on May 31, accused of crimes such as “resistance” and “contempt.” It remains unclear where he was during that week. Castillo’s detention is part of a larger crackdown in Cuba against artists who have faced scrutiny for their commentary on the regime and who have played leading roles in protest movements across the country. Castillo is one of the featured artists in “Patria y Vida,” a music video that is critical of Cuba’s government, which received over 5 million views. A member of the San Isidro Movement, he was also one of the main promoters of the #NoAlDecreto349 campaign, which has pushed for artistic freedom in the country. 

In an interview with Reuters in April, Castillo said, “As much as they try to discredit the work we are doing, it doesn’t work. I am not anyone’s agent. I am a free citizen.”

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. Their report, Art Under Pressure, details the effect of Decree 349, a regulation that gives authorities wide remit to limit the cultural sector on artists and activists in Cuba. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.

**PEN America experts are available for interviews in English and Spanish. // Los expertos de PEN América están disponibles para entrevistas en inglés y español.**

https://pen.org/press-release/pen-america-demands-immediate-release-of-cuban-rapper-and-activist/