Cuban Artist and Activist Hamlet Lavastida Abruptly Imprisoned
PEN America, PEN International demand his immediate release; part of broader crackdown on artistic expression
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — 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.