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Cuba: Hamlet Lavastida released from detention

Sunday 26 September 2021 - 3:50pm

Hamlet Lavastida A Cuban Artist

Cuban artist and activist Hamlet Lavastida was released Saturday after three months in detention. His release is a moment of joy and celebration for Hamlet, his family, and all those who have fought for his freedom, PEN America and PEN International said today.

“We are jubilant that Hamlet is finally free to reunite and will be able to reunite with his family and begin to heal from the terrible ordeal that he has experienced over the last three months,” said Julie Trébault, the Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The spurious case 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. We know that the toll of his time in prison may never fully leave him, but we wish him the best as he begins to rebuild his life and reclaim his platform as one of the leading voices of Cuba’s protest movement. We celebrate Hamlet’s ceaseless determination to say and do what it is in his heart and his mind, and we call on the Cuban government to free the artists and writers -- numbering more than 50 -- who remain behind bars for defying the iron grip of the regime. ARC, along with our partner organizations in human rights and the artists, will continue to fight to draw global attention and condemnation to the inhumane and unacceptable tactics that are considered par for the course by the Cuban authorities.”

“PEN International celebrates the release of Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida, unjustly imprisoned by Cuban authorities. Hamlet should never have been imprisoned. His detention was yet another example of the Cuban government's actions to threaten and censor writers, journalists and artists. Lavastida was released and taken directly to Havana's José Martí International Airport where he boarded a plane. The artist left Cuba with Katherine Bisquet, a poet whom PEN has supported since she has been the victim of constant threats and lengthy house arrest. They should never have been censored, detained, imprisoned, threatened or repressed for their literary or artistic work. PEN will continue to speak out for all authors and artists in Cuba who are threatened for their work”, declared Romana Cacchioli, Executive Director of PEN International.

On June 20, Lavastida returned to Cuba following a temporary residency in Berlin and was completing a mandatory six-day quarantine. He was arrested in Villa Marista on June 27, a high-security prison in Havana notorious for the detention of political prisoners. Since then, Lavastida faced unjust detention for “instigation to commit a crime.” The government rejected any petition for habeas corpus on July 1, 2021, and the public prosecutor imposed the precautionary measure of provisional imprisonment requested by Cuban State Security on 3 July. During his time in prison, Hamlet has suffered from severe depression and anxiety, contracted COVID-19, and has lost more than 10 kilograms.

Lavastida is a leader of the 27N movement, a group of independent Cuban artists, writers, and civil society members, which emerged in November 2020 following the arrest of rapper Denis Solis Gonzalez. Lavastida is a visual artist whose work interrogates the rhetoric and propaganda used by the Cuban state and has been exhibited at museums and festivals around the world. His arrest happened a few days before the outbreak of historic mass protests on July 11, which arose in response to the deteriorating political, social, and economic conditions on the island. Two months later, more than 50 artists remain under house arrest, imprisoned, or under investigation. This most recent spate of detentions underscores the Cuban government’s recent crackdown on freedom of expression and artists in particular.

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.

For more information, please contact Alicia Quiñones, Americas Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, email: