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Cuba: Prominent Figures Urge End to Repression of Artists

Artists Have Been Jailed, Persecuted, and Forced Into Exile

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, an artist who has vocally criticized repression in Cuba, speaks during an interview at his home in Havana, Cuba, on May 2, 2018. Alcántara has remained in prison since he was detained during a peaceful demonstration on July 11, 2021. © REUTERS / Alexandre Meneghini

(London | New York, NY) – The Cuban government should immediately stop its abuses against Cuban artists, over 300 prominent figures from the art world said today in a statement co-signed by PEN International, the Artists at Risk Connection of PEN America, and Human Rights Watch. The Cuban government should respect freedom of expression, release arbitrarily detained artists, drop abusive criminal charges, and allow those in exile to return to their country, the arts figures and human rights groups said.

“The level of injustice and repression the Cuban government is imposing on its own people is reaching ever higher levels,” said Tania Bruguera, a performance artist. “The government not only exercises constant censorship over the artists, but in its actions to prevent and criminalize peaceful protest and dissent, now it has made the entire people of Cuba enemy of the state. As an artist and as a Cuban, I am very scared for the future of my country.”

The artists who signed the statement include world-renowned figures such as Meryl Streep, Paul Auster, Orhan Pamuk, Elena Poniatowska, Isabel Allende, Jules Feiffer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Khaled Hosseini, as well as notable Cuban artists, including Tania Bruguera, Coco Fusco, and Hamlet Lavastida.

Independent Cuban artists have become a prominent voice criticizing the lack of basic freedoms and human rights in Cuba. The artists, including rappers, writers, actors, and painters who have spearheaded the “San Isidro,” “27N,” and “Archipelago” movements have organized mass demonstrations and used the increased access to the internet in the country to draw global attention to the rampant abuses under the Cuban regime. Some of them also wrote and performed in “Motherland and Life” (Patria y Vida), a viral song and protest anthem criticizing the repression in the country that was recently awarded the Latin Grammy for Song of the Year.

The Cuban government has committed systematic abuses against dozens of independent artists, including arbitrary detention and abusive restrictions on movements and communications, such as house arrests and surveillance. Several of the artists – including Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo, also known as “Osorbo,” who performed in “Motherland and Life” – remain in pre-trial detention and face unfair or groundless criminal charges. Many others remain subject to arbitrary prosecutions or are forced to stay in exile without being able to return to their homeland or show their art in Cuba. At least 50 artists have been under house arrest, imprisoned, or under investigation.

Many Cubans chanted “Motherland and Life” as they took the streets across the country in the July 11, 2021, landmark demonstrations protesting longstanding restrictions on rights, scarcity of food and medicines, and the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government engaged in arbitrary detention, ill treatment of detainees, and abuse-ridden criminal prosecutions against the demonstrators and stated that singing “Motherland and Life” could be considered a crime.

The “Archipelago” movement, led by actor and playwright Yunior García, organized a new round of protests for November 15, 2021. The Cuban government effectively suppressed the demonstrations by massively deploying security forces to arrest any protesters and encircle the homes of prominent dissidents and protest organizers, forcing them to stay home.

In the statement released on December 8, signatories 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 of the regime while exercising their right to creative expression.

“Throwing artists in jail or exiling them from the country forever – in response to their art, words and ideas – is abusive and inhumane,” the art world figures said.

“We, artists from around the world, stand in solidarity with our colleagues in Cuba.” said Elena Poniatowska, a writer. “As a journalist and writer, I believe in denouncing and opposing governments. I believe that if an intellectual, writer, or artist stands up against a government, he or she is doing an indispensable task. It is not surprising that some want to silence us when we bear witness to the voices, beliefs, and experiences of those who would otherwise go unheard. They are afraid of the truth because, once it is revealed, it can no longer be hidden.”

List of signatories:

Jane Aaron

Héctor Abad Faciolince

José Luis Acevedo Daza

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Héctor Aguilar Camín

Ben Andoni

Folu Agoi

Ayad Akhtar

Shahidul Alam

José Antonio Albertini

Carlos Alberto Montaner

Masih Alinejad

Isabel Allende

Diane Alméras

Angélica Altuzar Constantino

Ileana Álvarez González

Asieh Amini

Carlos Aníbal Alonso

Kwame Anthony Appiah

Marie Arana

Homero Aridjis

Salman Asif

Reza Aslan

Jessica Atal

Fidaa Ataya

Paul Auster

Nadezda Azhgikhina

Asiel Babastro

Badiucao

Alec Baldwin

Jürgen Banscherus

Peter Barbey

Lee Bellavance Diamond

Gioconda Belli

Carlos Betancourt

Katherine Bisquet

Erling Borgen

Beatriz Bracher

Luis Brandoni

Nick Brandt

Marta Breen

Mogos Brhane

Roberto Briones

Roberto Brodsky

Tania Bruguera

Ahmed Burić

Romana Cacchioli

Lydia Cacho

Jennine Capó Crucet

Adriana Carranca

Jorge Castañeda

Iliana Cepero

Francisco Céspedes

Baltasar Cevc

Helena Chávez Mac Gregor

Suhyun Choi

Sandra Cisneros

Jorge Encinas Cladera

Jennifer Clement

Isabel Coixet

Sarah Cooper

Anton Corbijn

Armando Correa

Jeff Cowen

Ricardo Cravo Albin

Luis de la Paz

María del Pilar Clemente

Fanny del Río

Enkel Demi

Jeanne Demuth

Denise Desautels

Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez

Reinier Díaz Vega

Nelson Dino

Ana Dipp

Jan J. Dominique

Theophilus Donoghue

Rita Dove

Christopher Durang

Gregorio Duvivier

Jennifer Egan

Kai Eide

Álvaro Enrigue

Louise Erdrich

María Eugenia Ayala

Lena Falkenhagen

Jules Feiffer

Ada Ferrer

David Francis

Julia Franck

Jonathan Franzen

Julia Fullerton-Batten

Coco Fusco

Inga Gaile

Angye Gaona

Yunior García Aguilera

Ivette García González

Dominique Gaucher

Sylvia Geist

Cris Gera

Ulrike Gerold

Daniel Giménez-Cacho

Amber Ginsburg

Jorge Glem

Jacques Godbout

Susanne Goga

Francisco Goldman

Mónica Gómez

Adam Gopnik

Nina Gorfer

Eric Gottesman

Scarlett Hooft Graafland

Nicholas Griffin

Niall Griffiths

Lev Grossman

Jean-Louis Grosmaire

Lilian Guerra

Wendy Guerra

Lars Gule

Agnete G. Haaland

Solomon Hailemariam

Jaime Hales

Signe Hammer

Daniel Handler

Wolfram Hänel

James Hannaham

Linda Hansen

Dennis Haskell

Tom Healy

Elke Heinemann

Georges Hélal

Elizabeth Hemmerdinger

Alban Nikolai Herbst

Ramón Hernández

Khaled Hosseini

Iman Humaydan

Tanya Huntington

Siri Hustvedt

David Henry Hwang

Tiina Itkonen

Bianca Jagger

Jeffrey James

Elisha July

Wanuri Kahiu

Kätlin Kaldmaa

Sofia Karim

Mary Karr

Entela Kasi

Lucina Kathmann

Nicholas Kawinga

Phil Klay

Hubert Klöpfer

José Kozer

Enrique Krauze

Ebo Krdum

Konstantin Küspert

Marco Kusumawijaya

Maira Landa

Ola Larsmo

Hamlet Lavastida

Eric Lax

Chang-rae Lee

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman

Svenja Leiber

Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Levi

Luciana Levinton

Steven Levitsky

Gwyneth Lewis

Christoph Links

John Lithgow

Julio Llópiz-Casal

Aurora López Cancino

Jorge Mañes Rubio

Carlos Manuel Álvarez

Luis Alberto Mariño Fernández

Lesley Marshall

Émile Martel

Yann Martel

Sara Martínez Castro

María Matienzo Puerto

Michel Matos

Colum McCann

Jay McInerney

Layda Melián

Dinaw Mengestu

Claire Messud

Arno Rafael Minkkinen

Marta Minujín

Herman Mondaca Raitieri

Ricardo Montaner

Milena Montaño Cavero

Rosa Montero

Charles Montpetit

Rick Moody

Michel Mouffe

Silvanos Mudzvova

Paul Muldoon

Maximillia Muninzwa

Víctor Muñoz

Besnik Mustafaj

Perumal Murugan

Azar Nafisi

Ahmed Naji

Toni Navarro

Ralf Nestmeyer

Hege Newth

Sylvie Nicolas

Lynn Nottage

Yanelys Núñez Leyva

Kurt Oesterle

Jorge Olivera Castillo

Nduko o'Matigere

Andres Oppenheimer

Begoña Osés

Raquel Otheguy

Amaury Pacheco del Monte

Orhan Pamuk

Gregory Pardlo

Daniel Pedreira

Michel Perea Enríquez (Nonardo Perea)

Izet Perviz

Virginia Phiri

Juan Enrique Piedrabuena Ruiz-Tagle

Claudia Piñeiro

Robert Pinsky

Platon

Elena Poniatowska Amor

Antonio Prata

Ahmet Prenci

Francine Prose

Marilyn Pupo

Shwan Dler Qaradaki

Alicia Quiñones

Selma Raljevic

Sergio Ramírez

Alejandro Riaño

Elvira Rodríguez Puerto

Germán Rojas

Anamely Ramos

Claudia Rankine

Farvash Razav

Elif Refig

Molly Ringwald

Arturo Ripstein

Alix Ritchie

Romina Ressia

Kurt Roessler

Alexis Romay

José A. Ruano

Karina Sainz Borgo

Fakhri Saleh

Salomón Salcedo Baca

Arturo Sandoval

Francis Sánchez

Philippe Sands

Sandra Santana

John Ralston Saul

George Saunders

Simon Schama

Steve Schapiro

Stacy Schiff

Manfred Schlösser

Eugene Schoulgin

Torsten Schulz

Dread Scott

Alice Sebold

Daniel Seekersway

Gabriel Seisdedos

Tanya Selvaratnam

Ingeborg Senneset

Oleg Sentsov

Enrique Serna

Oumar Farouk Sesay

Jan Schlegel

Kim Schwanhäuße

Helene Schmitz

Flamur Shala

Paata Shamugia

Omaid Sharifi

Guillermo Sheridan

Musa Sheriff

Gary Shteyngart

Jane Smiley

Kiki Smith

Bosco Sodi

Andrew Solomon

Burhan Sönmez

Chak Sopheap

Alec Soth

Vee Speers

Art Spiegelman

Cornelia Springer

Kjersti Løken Stavrum

Richard Stengel

Siri Stolt-Nielsen

Tom Stoppard

Michi Strausfeld

Meryl Streep

Rose Styron

Dariel Suárez

Aatish Taseer

Elma Tataragic

Rae Marie Taylor

Jennifer Teo

Danielle Thibault

Ma Thida

Colm Toibin

Mauricio Tolosa

Carles Torner

Edmundo Torrejón Jurado

Daniel Torres Rodríguez

Julie Trébault

Calvin Trillin

Salil Tripathi

Margarita Trushina

Tanja Tuma

Scott Turow

Anne Tyler

Kanchana Ugbabe

Luis Alberto Urrea

Alexis Valdés

Mario Vargas Llosa

Carlos Vásconez

Astrid Vehstedt

Burkhart Veigel

Oscar Vela

Leni Velasco

Xavier Velasco

Regula Venske

Mélissa Verreault

Lia Villares

Félix Villeneuve

Ayelet Waldman

Per Wästberg

Peter Wawerzinek

Jacob Weisberg

Catrina Wessels

Tara Westover

Herbert Wiesner

Tobias Wolff

Kacey Wong

Yotuel

Gabriel Zaid

Moisés Zamora

Correction

The list of signatories was updated at 1:30 pm EST on Thursday, December 9.

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