(NOTE: Exiled artists and the report authors are available to speak with journalists in Spanish and English; the press release is in Spanish below)

(NEW YORK) – Two years after the historic July 11 peaceful demonstrations in Cuba (known as 11J), the island’s artistic and cultural landscape has been drastically undermined, following a swift government crackdown, which led to the detention of nearly 50 artists. Of these, at least 10 remain in detention while 13 others were forced into exile. In a new report ahead of the anniversary, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, PEN International, and Cubalex, profile 17 exiled artists and cultural professionals that demonstrate their resilience and document the repressive and sometimes violent tactics by the Cuban state that forced them to flee.

The report, Método Cuba: Independent Artists’ Testimonies of Forced Exile, details the Cuban government’s tactics to silence and force dissident artists out of the country. The report centers artists’ lived experiences in the broader discussion on art, culture, and human rights and underscores shared forms of repression artists faced due to their creative expression. The publication also spotlights the journey that led them to leave the island and the challenges they currently face in exile.

The report calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners, including artists who are jailed for peacefully expressing their ideas and creative work. It also urges the governments of Latin America and the human rights community to investigate allegations of human rights violations against artists, writers, cultural workers, and activists in Cuba related to restrictions on freedom of artistic expression, arbitrary detentions, and patterns of forced exile. In addition, the report implores civil society to invest in creating local, regional, and international platforms and coalitions that build solidarity with Cuban artists, amplify their voices, and further expose violations of freedom of expression in Cuba.

Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), said: “The Cuban government has ruthlessly forced artists from their homeland, separating them from their families and casting them into a migratory limbo, after they endured threats, arrests, even violence. These exiled artists now face impossible challenges abroad as they try to rebuild their creative lives in new places, without the support of the community they leave behind. This horrific action by the state is not only a drain on the creative richness of the island but also chills free expression for those who remain and undermines human rights overall in Cuba.” 

Cubalex Executive Director Laritza Divergent said: “Cuban society is being deprived of a powerful tool of expression. It is a problem that concerns us all. It is important to raise awareness and create an understanding of the situation concerning Cuban artists both inside and outside of the country. The repression and harassment they face, both within and beyond the island, are not individual afflictions but rather collective ones. With this report we take the first step to recognize and understand the truth about the suffering and horror they are experiencing. The second step is to work towards demanding justice and ensuring that the events described in this report do not happen again in the future.”

PEN International Executive Director Romana Cacchioli  said: “The international community must unequivocally condemn the recurring cycles of repression and censorship in Cuba. The persistent intimidation, threats, detention, stigmatization of writers and artists who disagree with the authorities, and the pattern of forcing them into exile as a means to silence dissent is unacceptable. Through amplifying their voices, we shed light on the egregious and systematic violations of freedom of expression and artistic freedom on the island and urgently call upon the Cuban state to immediately cease the stranglehold on artistic spaces and to respect the human rights of all its citizens.

Writer and poet Katherine Bisquet said: “It is not our decision to be in exile. We do not go into exile for an economic benefit or to go on vacation in some country. It was not our decision at the time. I had to leave it all behind, I had to leave my books, all my things. In the matter of a day, I had to pack a suitcase with everything that made up my life to that point, all 29 years of it. . . . I only had a one-way ticket.”

Key points highlighted by the testimonies include:

  • Sixteen artists interviewed alleged they were either arbitrarily detained, subjected to police or judicial interrogations, or placed under house arrest due to their work or activism. They also alleged being threatened with arbitrary or rights-violative punishments, during detention or interrogation. These threats included physical or psychological abuse, long prison sentences, expulsion from work, and eviction of the artists or their families from their homes.
  • Fifteen artists mentioned receiving explicit threats, including fines, imprisonment, and professional dismissal directed at friends, colleagues, and/or relatives.
  • All artists reported suffering some form of physical or digital surveillance. Mentions of physical surveillance included police patrols and state security agents stationed in front of their homes, being followed in public spaces or via surveillance cameras. Meanwhile, digital surveillance included the hacking or tapping of phone lines, messaging services, and other means of communication.
  • Twelve of the artists we interviewed alleged being victims of state-led harassment campaigns, enduring threats, leaks of their private conversations, and online attacks to delegitimize or badger them.
  • All artists shared experiences of censorship, including the confiscation of tools or works of art; prohibition from exhibiting in galleries or official institutions and from holding meetings between artists; the inability to publish or collaborate with state institutions or organizations affiliated with the government; the exclusion of specific works from exhibitions; and the blocking of online content.
  • Fourteen of the 17 artists interviewed explicitly mentioned experiencing isolation once in exile, or difficulties associated with integrating into a new society. Specific needs may include mobility, public financing, networking assistance, translation and language support, access to work tools, and to cultural spaces and institutions

About the Artists at Risk Connection

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. ARC also released A Safety Guide For Artists, a resource that offers practical strategies to help artists understand, navigate, and overcome risk, and features an interview with Cuban artist Tania Bruguera about the state of free expression on the island. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

About PEN International

PEN International is the foremost and largest association of writers which stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression around the world. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. PEN operates across five continents through 147 Centers in over 100 countries. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. PEN International works to promote the PEN Charter to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to impart information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of literature to transform the world. In 2021, PEN International celebrated its Centenary. More than hundred years since its foundation, today PEN International is recognized as a leading international charity and expert on freedom of expression. For more information, visit pen-internacional.org.

About Cubalex

Cubalex’s mission is to empower citizens and strengthen civil society organizations in Cuba, while working to establish democracy and the rule of law and guarantees of respect of human rights in Cuba. Founded in 2010 in Havana, Cubalex operated on the island for seven years until its members were forced into exile. Currently, the organization is registered in the United States, from where it has worked continuously for five years. With 12 years of experience documenting and denouncing human rights violations on the island, Cubalex offers consulting services and free legal assistance to Cuban citizens, benefiting more than 5,000 people. For more information, visit cubalex.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057

Nuevo informe: Dos años después de las históricas manifestaciones del 11 de julio de 2021 en Cuba, la situación de los artistas forzados al exilio muestra el drástico deterioro de la libertad artística en la isla.

(NUEVA YORK) – Dos años después de las históricas manifestaciones pacíficas del 11 de julio en Cuba (también conocidas como 11J), el panorama artístico y cultural de la isla se ha visto drásticamente socavado, a raíz de una rápida represión gubernamental que condujo a la detención de casi 50 artistas. De ellos, al menos 10 permanecen detenidos y otros 13 se vieron obligados a exiliarse. En un nuevo informe previo al aniversario, PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, PEN Internacional y Cubalex presentan un perfil de 17 artistas y profesionales de la cultura exiliados, que demuestran su resistencia y documentan las tácticas represivas y a veces violentas del Estado cubano que les obligaron a huir.

El informe Método Cuba: Testimonios de artistas independientes sobre el exilio forzado detalla las formas de represión empleadas por el Estado cubano para silenciar y obligar a los artistas disidentes a salir del país. El informe centra las experiencias vividas por los artistas en el contexto de un debate más amplio sobre arte, cultura y derechos humanos, y subraya las formas comunes de represión que enfrentaron los artistas por ejercer su expresión creativa. La publicación también destaca el recorrido que debieron realizar hasta abandonar la isla y los retos que encaran actualmente en el exilio.

El informe pide al gobierno cubano la liberación inmediata de todos los presos políticos, incluidos los artistas encarcelados por expresar pacíficamente sus ideas y efectuar su trabajo creativo. También insta a los gobiernos de América Latina y a la comunidad humanitaria internacional a investigar las denuncias de violaciones de derechos humanos contra artistas, escritores, trabajadores culturales y activistas en Cuba, relacionadas con restricciones a la libertad de expresión artística, detenciones arbitrarias y pautas de exilio forzado. Además, el informe insta a la sociedad civil a que invierta en la creación de plataformas y coaliciones locales, regionales e internacionales que fomenten la solidaridad con los artistas cubanos, amplifiquen sus voces y sigan denunciando las violaciones a la libertad de expresión en Cuba.

Julie Trébault, directora de Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), declaró a propósito del informe: “Los inquietantes ataques contra la libertad de expresión y de creación de los artistas forman parte de una epidemia de exilio y sumisión de la sociedad cubana al silencio bajo una narrativa estatal singular y totalizadora. Oleadas de vigilancia, detenciones, amenazas y encarcelamientos se suceden sin control, respaldados por el interés del gobierno cubano de extinguir todas las voces críticas en la isla. Estas medidas despiadadas han dado lugar a la expulsión aberrante y totalmente injustificada de artistas independientes de Cuba, separándolos de sus familias y arrojándolos a un limbo migratorio. El drenaje de la riqueza artística, cultural e intelectual de Cuba a través del exilio forzado es una pérdida incalculable para el pueblo cubano y un duro golpe a la lucha mayor por los derechos humanos en el país”.

Laritza Diversent, directora ejecutiva de Cubalex, declaró por su parte: “Se está privando a la sociedad cubana de una poderosa herramienta de expresión. Es un problema que nos atañe a todos. Es importante visibilizar y sensibilizar sobre la situación de los artistas cubanos dentro y fuera del país. La represión y el hostigamiento que ese sector enfrenta, tanto dentro como fuera de la isla, no es una afectación individual, es colectiva. Con este informe damos el primer paso para reconocer y comprender la verdad sobre el sufrimiento y el horror que padecen. El segundo paso es trabajar para exigir justicia y garantizar que los hechos descritos en este informe no se repitan en el futuro”.

Romana Cacchioli, directora ejecutiva de PEN Internacional, señaló: “La comunidad internacional debe condenar inequívocamente los ciclos recurrentes de represión y censura en Cuba. La persistente intimidación, amenazas, detenciones, estigmatización de escritores y artistas que discrepan de las autoridades, y el patrón de forzarlos al exilio como medio para silenciar la disidencia es inaceptable. Al amplificar sus voces, arrojamos luz sobre las atroces y sistemáticas violaciones de la libertad de expresión y la libertad artística en la isla, y hacemos un llamamiento urgente al Estado cubano para que cese inmediatamente el estrangulamiento de los espacios artísticos y respete los derechos humanos de todos sus ciudadanos”.

La escritora y poeta Katherine Bisquet afirmó, a su vez: “No es una decisión nuestra [la] del exiliarnos. No nos exiliamos por un beneficio económico o para ir a vacacionar en algún país. No fue nuestra decisión en ese momento. Tuve que dejarlo todo, tuve que dejar mis libros, todas mis cosas. Tuve que llenar una maleta en cuestión de un día con todo lo que era mi vida hasta ese momento, toda mi vida de 29 años. . . . Sólo tenía un pasaje de ida”.

Entre los puntos clave destacados en los testimonios puede mencionarse:

  • Dieciséis artistas entrevistados alegaron haber sido detenidos arbitrariamente, sometidos a interrogatorios policiales o judiciales, o sometidos a arresto domiciliario debido a su trabajo o activismo. También denunciaron haber sido amenazados con castigos arbitrarios o violatorios de sus derechos, durante la detención o el interrogatorio. Estas amenazas incluían malos tratos físicos o psicológicos, largas penas de prisión, expulsión del trabajo y desalojo de los artistas o sus familias de sus hogares.
  • Quince artistas mencionaron haber recibido amenazas explícitas, incluidas multas, encarcelamiento y despido profesional dirigidas a amigos, colegas y/o familiares.
  • Todos los artistas declararon sufrir algún tipo de vigilancia física o digital. Las menciones de vigilancia física incluían la presencia de patrullas policiales y agentes de la Seguridad del Estado apostados frente a sus casas, ser seguidos en espacios públicos o a través de cámaras de vigilancia. Mientras tanto, la vigilancia digital incluía el pirateo o la intervención de líneas telefónicas, servicios de mensajería y otros medios de comunicación.
  • Doce de los artistas entrevistados afirmaron haber sido víctimas de campañas de acoso dirigidas por el Estado, amenazas, filtraciones de sus conversaciones privadas y ataques en línea para deslegitimarlos u hostigarlos.
  • Todos los artistas compartieron experiencias de censura, incluida la confiscación de herramientas u obras de arte; la prohibición de exponer en galerías o instituciones oficiales y de celebrar reuniones entre artistas; la imposibilidad de publicar o colaborar con instituciones estatales u organizaciones afines al gobierno; la exclusión de obras concretas de exposiciones y el bloqueo de contenidos en línea.
  • Catorce de los 17 artistas entrevistados mencionaron explícitamente haber experimentado aislamiento ya estando en el exilio, o dificultades asociadas a la integración a una nueva sociedad. Ellos tienen necesidades específicas que incluyen movilidad, financiación pública, ayuda para la creación de redes, traducción y apoyo lingüístico, así como acceso a herramientas de trabajo y a espacios e instituciones culturales.