“No justification” for persecution: International artists demand freedom for Cuban artists

Artists at Risk Connection, December 8, 2021

Joint Action

“No justification” for persecution: International artists demand freedom for Cuban artists

December 8, 2021

In the last several months, the campaign of persecution and harassment against artists in Cuba has reached terrifying new levels. On July 11, after historic mass protests broke out across the country, police and security forces carried out arbitrary arrests and physical attacks against peaceful protesters, detaining more than 1,120 artists and creatives. At least 50 artists have been under house arrest, imprisoned, or criminal investigation in recent months.

Artists have been on the frontlines of the protest movement in Cuba for months, using their platforms to draw national and international attention to social and political inequities on the island. Now, over 300 prominent figures from the arts are calling on the Cuban government to immediately stop its abuses against Cuban artists in a powerful statement co-signed by PEN International, the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America, and Human Rights Watch.

Signatories include Meryl Streep, Orhan Pamuk, Paul Auster, Elena Poniatowska, Isabel Allende, Zadie Smith, J. M. Coetzee, Jules Feiffer, and Khaled Hosseini, as well as notable Cuban artists, including Tania Bruguera, Coco Fusco, and Hamlet Lavastida.  

Our letter calls on the Cuban regime to respect the fundamental role that art and artists play in society, and immediately stop harassing artists for engaging in political and social critiques of the regime while exercising their right to creative expression.

Read the full text of the letter below.

Artists from around the world send this message to the Cuban government:


We, the undersigned artists—along with PEN International, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), and Human Rights Watch—call on the Cuban government to respect the fundamental right to freedom of expression, including artistic freedom, in Cuba. The Cuban government should immediately stop its unrelenting abuses against artists, release all arbitrarily detained artists, and drop all charges against them.

Art is powerful. Regardless of discipline, art allows us to reveal truths about our society and ourselves, promote dialogue, express our cultural identity, and bear witness to inhumanity. Artists can rally our communities and serve as a beacon of light amid darkness. It is because of the power of art that many governments, including the Cuban government, fear and condemn artists.

Cuban artists, including from the San Isidro, 27N, and Archipiélago movements, have drawn domestic and international attention to the Cuban government’s callous disregard for human rights, partially laying the foundation for the massive protests that erupted across the country on July 11, 2021. For years, these independent artists have organized peaceful demonstrations and increasingly used the internet to mobilize protests and report on abuses. For instance, the viral song “Motherland and Life” (Patria y Vida), which repurposes the Cuban government’s old slogan, “motherland or death” (patria o muerte) to criticize repression in the country, was later sung by demonstrators during protests.

In response, the Cuban government has systematically targeted Cuban artists, including, more recently, those who participated in the July 11 protests. Several dozen have reportedly been arrested, detained, or placed under house arrest. Several remain in detention and face bogus criminal charges. Others are under house arrest and subject to constant surveillance. Many others who fled the country have not been allowed to return and will remain in exile for the foreseeable future.

There is no justification for persecuting artists for peacefully expressing their views. We call on the Cuban government to respect the fundamental role that art and artists play in society and immediately stop harassing artists for engaging in political and social critiques that are not in line with the government’s rigid ideology.

Throwing artists in jail or exiling them from the country forever – in response to their art, words, and ideas – is abusive and inhumane. We stand proudly in solidarity with Cuban artists. Art should be free from censorship and repression, in Cuba and everywhere.


Jane Aaron

Héctor Abad Faciolince

José Luis Acevedo Daza

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ben Andoni

Folu Agoi

Ayad Akhtar

Shahidul Alam

José Antonio Albertini

Carlos Alberto Montaner

Masih Alinejad

Isabel Allende

Meryl Streep

[ Full list of signatories here ]