(New York, NY) – In yet another display of harassment against independent artists, Cuban police this week again arrested poet and writer Jorge Olivera Castillo and his wife Nancy Alfaya. While both have since been released, the ongoing campaign against them and other artists in Cuba is part of a crackdown on artistic freedom rooted in a new 2018 regulation known as Decree 349, PEN America said in a statement today.

“The arrest of Nancy Alfaya and continual harassment she and her husband Jorge Olivera Castillo have experienced are part of a deeply disturbing trend of silencing independent artists and restricting artistic freedom in Cuba,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “From musicians to writers to visual artists, we are witnessing widespread suppression of freedom of expression through imprisonment, intimidation, and outright censorship enshrined in legislation.”

In 2018, the Cuban government announced Decree 349, a legal provision that has enhanced the government’s institutionalization of censorship and vice-like grip on the arts. Earlier this year, ARC published a report,  Art Under Pressure: Decree 349 Restricts Creative Freedom in Cuba. The paper sounded the alarm on Decree 349, which is the most significant attempt by the state yet to regulate the cultural sector and control a rising generation of independent and globally connected artists.

Castillo and Alfaya’s  arrests represent a broader crackdown rooted in this new decree. In August, the couple was arrested, interrogated, fined, and subsequently released. But just days later, Cuban police surrounded their home. The police returned on September 20, preventing the couple from leaving their house. And finally, on September 30, after Castillo and Alfaya attended a gathering with other independent artists and writers who read their work and performed, they were again arrested. PEN America today said it was part of a pattern of persecution against outspoken artists.

“The Cuban government’s systematic repression of independent artists, writers, journalists, and social activists is a blatant attempt to intimidate, silence, and criminalize any and all dissenting voices,” said ARC’s Trebault. Silencing the views of independent artists doesn’t just hurt the artists themselves, it also deprives Cuban society of bold, new ideas and of art that is more likely to be innovative, reveal injustices, and empower marginalized people.”

Since the publication of PEN America’s report, artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara has been arrested numerous times, while rapper Maykel Castillo Pérez, who is spotlighted in the report, is still in prison over a year after his arrest.

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, contact ARC here.


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.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892