(New York, NY | London, UK) — State security forces in Cuba today prevented demonstrators from taking part in a planned rally to protest ongoing repression and persecution on the island, barricading artists, journalists, and activists inside their homes. PEN America and PEN International condemned the Cuban regime for refusing to allow the protests to take place and called on Cuban authorities to lift the state of siege against protesting artists.
“We are saddened and infuriated that the peaceful protests planned for today were completely and deliberately stifled by government officials. The blatant repression of the Cuban regime knows no bounds. These courageous artists and activists are doing everything they can to call for the release of their friends and colleagues who have remained behind bars since July, and the response of the authorities was total suppression,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “We call for the Cuban government to lift all restrictions on those kept prisoner in their homes today and demand that the Cuban state respect the right of Cubans to peacefully express their beliefs, whether through art or protest.”
“PEN International strongly objects to the repressive response from the Cuban government against artists who planned to participate in peaceful demonstrations across the country today. This repression of peaceful protestors demonstrates the brutal authoritarian policies of the Cuban government. PEN will not cease to document and denounce the global attacks on freedom of expression and artistic freedom, as well as the constant threats and harassment against artists, writers, intellectuals and journalists in Cuba. We will continue to defend and support these writers who are rewriting the history of their homeland,” said Romana Cacchioli, executive director of PEN International.
Artists, intellectuals and writers have led the calls for a peaceful demonstration in recent weeks, among them the playwright and activist Yunior García, leader of the Archipiélago collective. Archipiélago, a civic platform group consisting of Cubans inside and outside of the country calling for democracy and civil rights, has functioned as the main organizer of the planned protests.
García’s house was surrounded by state security forces on Sunday and he has remained trapped in his apartment with his phone and internet shut off. He had planned to march alone on Sunday, dressed in white and wearing a white rose. Javier L. Mora and Zulema Gutiérrez, both writers and founding members of Archipiélago, have been under surveillance since the demonstration was announced and are unable to leave their homes.
On 14 November, writer and journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa, a columnist for The Washington Post, told PEN that he was under siege by police and plainclothes officers. "I was informed that I am under house arrest for an indefinite period," he confirmed.
On 15 November, at 15.23 hours Havana time, Archipiélago announced that art historian, art curator and activist Carolina Barrero had been arrested for exercising her right to demonstrate peacefully.
Solidarity demonstrations were also planned in more than 120 cities around the world, including Madrid, Berlin, and New York. These demonstrations continued as scheduled today.
These protests mark the second time that Cubans have taken to the street this year to demand reform. Historic demonstrations swept through the island on July 11, drawing national and international attention to the island’s deteriorating socio-political conditions. Since then, there have been at least 39 documented arrests of artists related to the protests, four of whom were subjected to trial without a jury. At least 50 artists and writers are currently either under house arrest, imprisoned, or under investigation. Several prominent Cuban artists, including rapper Maykel Castillo Perez and artist Luis Manuel Alcantara, remain detained in high-security prisons for indefinite periods of time.
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 recently 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.
**PEN experts are available for interviews in English and Spanish. // Los expertos de PEN están disponibles para entrevistas en inglés y español.