PEN International denounces the Cuban authorities over their harassment of writer Andrés Gómez Quevedo; this is the latest example of ongoing intimidation against writers, journalists, and intellectuals in Cuba, as a form of national control and censorship. PEN calls again on the Cuban authorities to immediately cease attacks against freedom of speech and artistic expression.
On 10 April 2021 it came to light that copies of Los árboles que querían volar, a book by the Cuban writer Andrés Gómez Quevedo, were recalled and confiscated by San Luis State Security in Santiago de Cuba after the book was deemed “subversive”. State agents have been following and harassing the writer’s family and friends in order to seize the copies.
“With the ongoing harassment of writers and sanctions against artistic expression, the Cuban government aims to silence any form of political dissent. Cuban authorities must cease such behaviour immediately and respect freedom of speech and artistic expression” said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International. The children’s book Los árboles que querían volar was published in December 2020 by Chiado Editorial in countries such as Portugal and Spain, and tells the story of five trees that want to fly away to escape their king’s oppressive laws, seeking help from a child and a fairy to do so. The characters try to navigate and overcome the absurd, unreal reality in which they find themselves, a world full of fear, persecution, despair, helplessness and resignation.
According to a statement by the writer Andrés Gómez Quevedo on social media, State Security forced people to hand in their copies of the book. The writer also said that his father was summoned for questioning “as if he were a criminal” on at least two occasions, for having the book in his possession and for giving it to others as a gift. Cuban authorities have also accused the writer of being hired by the opposition. “I just wrote a children’s book, I don’t see what’s so bad about that”, he said.
The PEN International Charter states that “Literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people despite political or international upheavals. In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art, the patrimony of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion.”
Since Decree 349 came into effect in Cuba, artists and writers have been subjected to a growing level of harassment. The decree was created based on existing laws and regulations that apply to artists officially recognised by the Cuban government; and it formalises and extends artistic censorship in Cuba, and creates a new category of art inspectors who have the power to unilaterally issue fines, cancel events and confiscate works as punishment for submitting works without state authorisation.
PEN International condemns the existence of Decree 349, requests its repeal, and urgently calls on the Cuban government to:
- Cease the harassment and threats against the writer Andrés Gómez Quevedo and his literary work, as well as the persecution of other authors and journalists in Cuba.
- Immediately cease the repression against free artistic and creative manifestation.
- Fulfil its international obligation, as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to guarantee that artists, writers and journalists can exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of reprisal.