CubaBrief: Human Rights Watch reports Clampdown on Artists, Journalists in Cuba. Artists Demand Release of Detained Dissident Artist Hamlet Lavastida. How you can take action.

The Castro regime is engaging in a systematic crackdown on Cuban artists and journalists, but Cuba’s nascent civil society is responding in a civic-nonviolent manner and seeking international support.

Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida jailed

Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida jailed

“Over 140 Cuban intellectuals and cultural figures, including Tania Bruguera and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, have signed an open letter demanding the release of artist Hamlet Lavastida, detained in Havana this weekend upon his return from a residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. The artist is currently held at Villa Marista, the notorious maximum-security prison known for holding political prisoners,” reported Valentina Di Liscia in her July 1, 2021 HYPERALLERGIC article “Artists Demand Release of Dissident Artist Detained in Cuba” that was updated on July 2nd with an expanded list of signers to the open letter. The letter reproduced further down in this CubaBrief along with Di Liscia’s article states, “we condemn the criminalization of Hamlet Lavastida by the Cuban government. He is a Cuban citizen and artist who has done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to express himself.”

There is an open petition circulating that is available for your signature demanding the release of Hamlet Lavastida.

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.’ Sixty years later and this totalitarian view continues to be imposed on the arts and journalism in Cuba.

Cuban art curator Carolina Barrero Ferrer was under police surveillance for 3 days with internet access cut off, and was arrested on July 1, 2021 and remains in detention.

Cuban art curator Carolina Barrero Ferrer was under police surveillance for 3 days with internet access cut off, and was arrested on July 1, 2021 and remains in detention.

“The Cuban government is committing systematic human rights abuses against independent artists and journalists,” said Human Rights Watch on June 30, 2021 as the internationally recognized human rights NGO “released a video on the abuses.” According to Human Rights Watch, “in recent months, Cuban authorities have jailed and prosecuted several artists and journalists who are critical of the government. Police and intelligence officers have routinely appeared at the homes of other artists and journalists, ordering them to stay there, often for days and even weeks. The authorities have also imposed temporary targeted restrictions on people’s ability to access cell phone data. Singing a song that the government does not like, or reporting the news independently, is enough to get you detained in Cuba,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “These abuses are not isolated incidents, but rather appear to be part of a plan to selectively silence critical voices.”

The video released by Human Rights watch begins with Luis Eligio D Omni of ProActivo Miami, a Cuban artist who took part in a Zoom conference hosted by the Center for a Free Cuba on June 30th that was moderated by Sebastian Arcos Cazabon and included artists Paquito D’Rivera, Kizzy Macias, and the journalist Norges Rordríguez focused on the intersection of the arts and protest in Cuba. The event is in Spanish and available online.

Cuban artists are expressing long held truths to an international audience. They are breaking through decades of carefully crafted regime propaganda, and the dictatorship is panicking. They are also sending a message to tourists that go to Cuba and treat it as an amusement park that they want to see. This phenomenon has angered many Cubans for many years, but artists have found a way to visualize and communicate it to a non-Cuban audience.

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HYPERALLERGIC, July 1, 2021 (Updated July 2nd)

News

Artists Demand Release of Dissident Artist Detained in Cuba

Over 140 artists and intellectuals including Tania Bruguera and Katherine Bisquet have voiced their support for Hamlet Lavastida.

by Valentina Di Liscia

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Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida in 2019. (courtesy of Coco Fusco)

Over 140 Cuban intellectuals and cultural figures, including Tania Bruguera and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, have signed an open letter demanding the release of artist Hamlet Lavastida, detained in Havana this weekend upon his return from a residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. The artist is currently held at Villa Marista, the notorious maximum-security prison known for holding political prisoners.

“We condemn the criminalization of Hamlet Lavastida by the Cuban government. He is a Cuban citizen and artist who has done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to express himself,” says the letter, reproduced in its entirety below.

According to Katherine Bisquet, a Cuban writer and poet who has been following the case, Lavastida was apprehended on Saturday, June 26, at the government center where he was completing a quarantine period imposed on travelers coming from abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The artist was detained on charges of “instigation to commit a crime” based on a private Telegram chat conversation of the 27N Movement, an activist group advocating for freedom of expression in Cuba.

In the messages, which were leaked and discussed on national television, Lavastida comments on an unrealized artistic project that would consist of marking high denomination bills with the symbols of 27N and the related Movimiento San Isidro (MSI). The concept is reminiscent of similar works made in the 1970s and 80s, such as Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles’s “Insertions into Ideological Circuits,” in which he stamped official banknotes with subversive messages before returning them to circulation.

But in Lavastida’s case, the open letter says, “that suggestion was never carried out by any of the members of the chat group, nor was it made public until Cuban television commentator Humberto Lopez revealed this private communication on national television.”

The authors go on to express their outrage over the Cuban state’s surveillance tactics, the accusations against Lavastida, and “fundamentally, the fact that an exchange of ideas and the exercise of imagination are qualified as a crime by the Cuban government, resulting in a citizen being prosecuted for exercising what should be citizens’ rights.”

Lavastida’s work, which spans photography, collage, printmaking, video, and archival practices, often focuses on the institutionalization of socialism in Cuba. In the artist’s words, his aim is to create “a symbolic archive, a linguistic archive, or an iconographic archive” of the circumstances surrounding the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath.

Read the open letter in full, below:

June 30, 2021

Today is the 60th anniversary of the “Words to Intellectuals” speech that set the parameters for creative expression in Cuba. In 2009, artist Hamlet Lavastida created a work he titled “Intellectuals without words” as a commentary on the conditions in which Cubans have been forced to create for six decades.

We are artists and intellectuals who have decided to unite our voices for one purpose. These are our words.

We condemn the criminalization of Hamlet Lavastida by the Cuban government. He is a Cuban citizen and artist who has done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to express himself.

Although Hamlet is today a target of aggression by the Cuban state, we understand that the criminalization of his thoughts, private conversations and art constitutes an attack on all Cuban artists and citizens.

We demand that the Cuban government release him and drop the fabricated charge against him. Hamlet is being held at the Villa Marista State Security Instruction Unit under investigation for alleged “instigation to commit a crime”. According to the state media outlet Razones de Cuba, “he has been inciting and calling for civil disobedience actions in public, using social networks and direct influence on other counterrevolutionary elements”. The alleged evidence used against him comes from a suggestion he made in a private chat group for Cuban banknotes to be marked as a public art gesture. That suggestion was never carried out by any of the members of the chat group, nor was it made public until Cuban television commentator Humberto Lopez revealed this private communication on national television.

We are outraged by the violation of the privacy of citizens, the unjust accusations against our colleague and, fundamentally, the fact that an exchange of ideas and the exercise of imagination are qualified as a crime by the Cuban government, resulting in a citizen being prosecuted for exercising what should be citizens’ rights. What the Cuban government calls civil disobedience (a category that includes criticism of the government itself and the organization of civic campaigns) is not subject to repression in a democratic Republic. We cannot tolerate such an egregious incursion into human rights.

We refuse to remain silent or distance ourselves from a persecuted colleague, knowing that at any moment any one of us could find ourselves in the same condition. We call on all our colleagues in the arts and culture to join with Hamlet Lavastida and demand that the Cuban authorities, the President of the Republic, the Council of Ministers and the prosecutor in his case immediately drop all charges against him.

None of us will be free until we are all free!

SIGNED:

  • Abel González, curador

  • Adria Valdés Peyrellade, arquitecta

  • Adriana F. Castellanos, cineasta

  • Afrik3Reina (Yenisleidys Borroto Vega), poeta

  • Alain Rafael Dueñas Estévez, fotógrafo y realizador

  • Alejandro Campins, artista

  • Alejandro sin Barreras, artista

  • Alenmichel Aguiló, historiador

  • Alexander Joa Medina, psicólogo

  • Alexander Pozo, diseñador

  • Alfredo Martínez Ramírez, periodista

  • Aminta D’Cardenas Soroa, productora

  • Ana Rosa Valdez, historiadora de arte

  • Anamelys Ramos González, historiadora del arte

  • Anelys Álvarez-Muñoz, historiadora de arte

  • Anet Hernández Agrelo, profesora e investigadora

  • Anet Melo Glaria, diseñadora

  • Anthony Bubaire Pérez, fotógrafo

  • Armando Chaguaceda, politólogo

  • Aryam Rodríguez Cabrera, artista

  • Camila Lobón, artista

  • Carlos Amilkar Melián, cineasta y periodista

  • Carlos Manuel Álvarez, escritor y periodista

  • Carlos Quintela, cineasta

  • Carolina Barrero, historiadora de arte

  • Carolina Sansón, especialista en gestión documental

  • Celia González Alvarez, artista y antropóloga

  • Claudia Genlui Hidalgo Moreno, curadora

  • Claudia Patricia Pérez Olivera, diseñadora

  • Cristina Parra González, antropóloga

  • Daniel Triana Rubio, actor

  • Dean Luis Reyes, profesor y crítico de cine

  • Demis Menéndez Sánchez, escritor

  • Edgar Pozo, escritor

  • Eliezer Sesma,

  • Eloy Viera Cañive, abogado

  • Elvis Fuentes, historiador de arte

  • Ernesto Oroza, artista

  • Evelyn Pérez Galvez, historiadora de arte

  • Fabiana Salgado, cineasta

  • Fernando Fragela Fosado, cineasta

  • Gerardo Mosquera, curador y historiador de arte

  • Gerardo Muñoz, profesor de literatura

  • Gretel Medina Mendieta, cineasta

  • Harold García Vázquez, artista

  • Heidi Hassan, artista y cineasta

  • Helen Ochoa Calvo, socióloga

  • Henry Eric Hernandez, artista e historiador de arte

  • Igor López, periodista

  • Iliana Hernández Cardosa, Periodista

  • Isel Arango Rodríguez, historiadora del arte

  • Janet Batet, historiadora de arte

  • Joel Suárez Gómez, bailarín y coreógrafo

  • Jorge Enrique Rodríguez Camejo, escritor y periodista independiente

  • José Antonio García Simón, escritor

  • José Luis Aparicio, cineasta

  • José Manuel Mecías, artista

  • José Raúl Gallego, periodista, profesor e investigador

  • Juan Aristedes Brinquez Otamendiz, fotógrafo

  • Juan Miguel Pozo, artista

  • Juan Si González, artista

  • Juliana Rabelo, investigadora social

  • Julio Llópiz Casal, artista

  • Karla María Pérez González, periodista

  • Katherine Bisquet, escritora

  • Kiko Faxas, artista

  • Laritza Diversent, abogada

  • Lázaro A. Saavedra González, artista

  • Leandro Feal, artista

  • Leandro M. Fernández Otaño, historiador

  • Lester Alvarez, artista y cineasta

  • Levi Enrique Orta Mendoza, artista

  • Liliam Dooley, diseñadora

  • Liz Peláez, bibliotecaria

  • Luis Alberto Mariño Fernandez, compositor

  • Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, artista

  • Lupe Álvarez, profesora y críti a de arte

  • Luz Escobar, periodista

  • Lynn Cruz, actriz y directora

  • Marcos A. Castillo, artista

  • María A. Cabrera Arús, socióloga

  • María de Lourdes Mariño Fernández, historiadora del arte

  • María del Carmen Domínguez, editora

  • Mario Luis Reyes, periodista

  • Mario Ramírez, escribidor

  • Marta María Ramírez, periodista y feminista

  • Marthadela Tamayo González, activista

  • Mary Karla Ares, periodista independiente

  • Massiel Fernández Torralbas, músico

  • Maykel González Viveros, periodista

  • Miguel Coyula, cineasta

  • Mijail Rodríguez Reverón, cineasta

  • Miryorly García Prieto, historiadora de arte

  • Mónica Baró, periodista

  • Mytil Font Martinez, filóloga y editora

  • Nadia Díaz Graverán, artista

  • Nelson Jalil, artista

  • Noel Alonso Ginoris, escritor

  • Osmani Pardo Guerra, trabajador por cuenta propia

  • Osmany Suárez Rivero, historiador del arte

  • Osmy Moya, artista

  • Osvaldo Hernández Menéndez, historiador

  • Osvaldo Navarro Veloz, activista

  • Patricia Pérez, cineasta

  • Rafael DíazCasas, historiador de arte y curador

  • Ray Veiro, escritor

  • Raychel Carrión Jaime, artista

  • Reinaldo Escobar Casas, periodista

  • Reynier Leyva Novo, artista

  • Reynier Pérez Morales, actor

  • Rodolfo Peraza, artista multimedia

  • Royma Cañas Treto, editora

  • Salomé García Bacallao, investigadora y artista

  • Sandra Ceballos, artista

  • Sergio Fernández Borras

  • Sindy Rivery, filóloga

  • Solveig Font Martinez, curadora

  • Susana Mohammad, historiadora de arte

  • Suset Sánchez, curadora

  • Taiyana Pimentel, curadora

  • Tamara Venéreo Valcarel, actriz

  • Tania Bruguera, artista

  • Valia Garzón, tasadora de arte

  • Victor Fernández

  • William Ruiz Morales, director de teatro

  • Yamilka Lafitta Cancio, historiadora del arte

  • Yimit Ramirez, cineasta

  • Yissel Arce Padrón, historiadora de arte y profesora

  • Yoani Sánchez Cordero, periodista

  • Pedro Calderón. ciudadano cubano

  • Yadira Rubio, educadora artística

  • Aisar Jalil Martínez, artista visual

  • Nara Valdés, ciudadana cubana

  • Yordanka Ramos Alfonso, Maestra

  • Luis Eligio D Omni, performer

  • Carlos Alejandro Rodriguez Halley, actor

  • Ricardo Acosta, cineasta

  • Juan Carlos Sáenz de Calahorra, cineasta

  • Javier Castro, artista visual.

  • Jorge Luis Marrero, artista visual

  • Sandra Ceballos, artista visual

Editor’s note 7/2/21 11:12am EST:  This article has been updated to reflect the most recent version of the open letter, along with the corrected full list of signatories, which includes 141 artists and intellectuals.

https://hyperallergic.com/660622/artists-demand-release-of-cuban-political-prisoner-hamlet-lavastida/

Human Rights Watch, June 30, 2021

Cuba: Clampdown on Artists, Journalists

Arbitrary Detention, Restrictions on Movement, Communications

(Washington, DC) – The Cuban government is committing systematic human rights abuses against independent artists and journalists, Human Rights Watch said today as it released a video on the abuses.

In recent months, Cuban authorities have jailed and prosecuted several artists and journalists who are critical of the government. Police and intelligence officers have routinely appeared at the homes of other artists and journalists, ordering them to stay there, often for days and even weeks. The authorities have also imposed temporary targeted restrictions on people’s ability to access cellphone data.

“Singing a song that the government does not like, or reporting the news independently, is enough to get you detained in Cuba,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “These abuses are not isolated incidents, but rather appear to be part of a plan to selectively silence critical voices.”

Between February and June 2021, Human Rights Watch interviewed by telephone 29 journalists and artists who were victims of abuse and harassment by Cuban authorities in recent months. In many cases, Human Rights Watch conducted multiple interviews with people who were subjected to new abuses. Human Rights Watch also reviewed court decisions, publications by local human rights groups, and media reports, and corroborated videos posted on social media.

Most of the artists and journalists targeted belong to the “San Isidro Movement,” a coalition of singers, painters and other artists, and “27N,” a group of artists and journalists who gathered after a landmark protest against censorship and repression in Havana on November 27, 2020. Victims also include people who have performed in, or even simply played or promoted “Motherland and Life,” a song by Cuban artists in Havana and Miami that repurposes the Cuban government’s old slogan “Motherland or Death” (Patria o muerte), and criticizes repression in the country.

Officials involved in the abuses include members of the intelligence services, known in Cuba as “state security,” and the national police, based on accounts by witnesses and victims, as well as photos and videos reviewed by Human Rights Watch. Intelligence officers normally wear civilian clothing, but at times they identify themselves to detainees verbally or show their credentials. Many government critics said that they are often detained and under surveillance by the same people, leading them to conclude that their harassers are intelligence officers.

Many of the artists and journalists have also been smeared with false accusations on national television. Anchors on the main Cuban news program – which belongs to a state-owned channel and is featured at prime time simultaneously on most TV channels in Cuba – have in recent months falsely accused some of the artists and journalists of “conspiring” against Cuba and being involved in “delinquency.”

The consistent and repeated patterns in the cases Human Rights Watch documented have involved actions by police and intelligence officers at least since the November 27 protest, often against the same victims. The patterns of harassment strongly suggest a plan by Cuban authorities to selectively repress independent artists and journalists, Human Rights Watch said. The targeted restrictions on critics’ cellphone data, as well as the repeated instances of accusations against many of them on public television, are further evidence of the systematic nature of these violations.

The restrictions on movement have been imposed on multiple journalists and artists on the same days, preventing them from participating in demonstrations or meetings. Barring people from leaving their homes for a significant period, barring them from socializing with others, and threatening them with imprisonment if they don’t comply amounts to arbitrary deprivations of liberty comparable with de facto house arrest, Human Rights Watch said.

Cuban authorities have also imposed targeted and temporary restrictions on cellphone data and phone services to members of the “San Isidro” and “27N” groups, often coinciding with the restrictions on movement. When they face such restrictions, some government critics borrow phones from friends and relatives who are not critical of the government and whose service has not been interrupted, they told Human Rights Watch.

Iliana Hernández, a reporter for the independent news outlet Ciber Cuba, has faced such restrictions persistently since April 23. Five officers, including three in civilian clothes, forced her into a police car that day as she headed for a bus stop with some friends. She shouted “down with the dictatorship! Down with communism! Motherland and life!” The officers took her to a police station, where an officer said she was being accused of “contempt” for “offending the figure of President Miguel Díaz-Canel,” apparently because of what she shouted.

The officer told her she would be held as a “precautionary measure,” and forbidden to leave her home until she stands trial. Hernández was never taken before a prosecutor or judge, shown a document indicating she is legally subjected to such a measure, or given a chance to challenge it, she and her lawyer told Human Rights Watch. She has never been formally notified of the alleged “contempt” investigation.

Since that day, several officers have surveilled her home in shifts, 24 hours a day. Normally, five of them are surveilling at any time. Other people who live with her have been allowed to leave the house, but officers have attempted to arrest her every time she tries to leave. Her cellphone data and her home internet have not worked since the beginning of her detention, she said.

In most other cases documented, critics facing such restrictions were never notified, even verbally, that these were connected to an alleged criminal investigation.

Many journalists and artists were arbitrarily detained, often for attempting to leave their homes when they faced restrictions on movement. Police and intelligence officers arrested some artists and journalists repeatedly. In the vast majority of cases, officers did not show an arrest warrant or provide detainees with a reason for their arrest. Most were released after a few hours. In some cases, the officers drove the detainees to unpopulated areas where they held them for hours, or simply kept them in the police car, instead of taking them to a police station, then released them.

Some have also faced longer term arbitrary detention. Maykel Castillo, who had experienced multiple short-term arbitrary detentions and is one of the singers in “Motherland and Life,” was arrested at his home on May 18. His whereabouts were unknown to his family until May 31, when Cuban authorities informed them that he was being held in the Pinar del Río prison. The family was notified a few days after the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances had urged the Cuban government to reveal Castillo’s place of detention.

A court document Human Rights Watch reviewed indicates that he is being investigated on charges of “contempt,” “resistance,” and “assault.” An official Cuban news outlet reported that the charges are connected to an April 4 peaceful protest in Havana, during which a police officer tried to arrest Castillo and a group of local residents defended him, preventing the detention.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a leading figure in the San Isidro movement and also a singer of “Motherland and Life,” has been routinely arrested or had his movements restricted in recent months. On April 25, he began a hunger strike demanding that the authorities stop harassing him and that they return some paintings they had confiscated during a search of his house on April 17.

On May 2, officers went to his house, handcuffed him, and took him to a hospital, he said. The next day, Alcántara decided to end his strike, fearing that they would force him to eat. He said he remained in detention while hospitalized, in a five square meter room with three security officers always in the room with him. He was not allowed to call anyone and was only allowed four five-minute visits by family members, he said. After threatening to jail him, officers released him, and he left the hospital on May 30. “They told me that if I didn’t behave properly, they could do whatever they wanted with me,” Alcántara said.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/30/cuba-clampdown-artists-journalists