Hamlet Lavastida Freed after Three Months’ Imprisonment in Cuba
September 28th, 2021
Artist Hamlet Lavastida, a member of Cuban artist-activist group 27N who was arrested in June as he returned to Cuba from a residency at at Berlin’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien, has been released, Artnews reports. According to his girlfriend, writer, and activist Katherine Bisquet, he has been exiled to Europe, as has she.
Lavastida had criticized Cuban authorities and had compared the conditions under which artists labor in Cuba to those of the Stalinist Soviet Union, characterizing Cuba in an April interview as a “police state.” He was ultimately detained on charges of “incitement to commit a crime” after stamping Cuban currency with images connected to 27N and to the San Isidro Movement (MSI). Activist organizations around the world rallied to his defense, with Amnesty International naming him a “prisoner of conscience,” and Julie Trébault, director of a PEN America–run program aimed at “imperiled artists,” writing in a statement, “The spurious charges imposed on Hamlet—which was arbitrary in every way and lacked any semblance of due process—is emblematic of the lengths to which the Cuban government will go to silence those who defy them, and the special cruelty they reserve for those who, through the power of art, can move others to resist as well. Hamlet has always put the broader cause of artistic freedom and free expression above his own plight.”
Both 27N and MSI have been persecuted by the Cuban government for protesting the enforcement of Decree 349 on the grounds that it impedes free speech and artistic freedom. The rule, enacted in 2018, requires artists to obtain government approval before presenting their work. Prior to Lavastida’s detention, 27N’s Tania Bruguera had been repeatedly detained and continually surveilled, and MSI’s Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was forcibly hospitalized after undertaking a hunger strike. This past summer, an unprecedented groundswell of protest emerged, after thousands of Cuban citizens took to the streets to demonstrate in support of free speech and to demand food and health care.