Cuba: Hamlet Lavastida Facing Provisional Imprisonment and Investigation

6 July 2021 (New York, NY / London, UK) — Cuban visual artist and activist Hamlet Lavastida now faces provisional imprisonment and is being investigated for “instigation to commit a crime,” as confirmed by his girlfriend, the poet Katherine Bisquet, on her Facebook page. Having rejected a petition for habeas corpus on 1 July, the public prosecutor imposed the precautionary measure of provisional imprisonment requested by Cuban State Security on 3 July. Lavastida will remain in jail awaiting trial.

In a statement today, PEN America and PEN International called for Lavastida to be released from prison and condemned the Cuban authorities for targeting Lavastida for his peaceful and private political expression.

“Lavastida’s imprisonment is just one more iteration of an increasingly virulent campaign launched by the Cuban authorities against dissenting artists and members of the artistic collective 27N,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Day after day, the Cuban authorities continue to blatantly ignore the rule of law while targeting and persecuting artists who have committed no crimes—only using their voices and platforms as artists to provide commentary on the ruling regime. The charges against Lavastida stand in direct conflict with the country’s international treaty commitments and its obligations toward freedom of expression and artistic freedom. We condemn the Cuban government’s treatment of Lavastida, and we call for him to be released immediately and for the investigation to be dropped.”

“PEN International reiterates its call on the Cuban authorities to immediately release artist Hamlet Lavastida. We call on the government to cease its systematic harassment of independent writers, artists, and journalists, and to respect artistic freedom and freedom of expression,” said Romana Cacchioli, Executive Director of PEN International.

Katherine Bisquet, who visited Lavastida in jail earlier this week, wrote on Facebook that the investigation and charges facing the Cuban artist stemmed from a private Telegram chat between members of the 27N group. These were leaked and analysed by television anchor Humberto López on NTV Nacional, a national channel. In the chat, Lavastida suggested the idea of marking bills of currency with the logos of 27N and the San Isidro Movement—a group of Cuban artists, journalists, and academics formed in 2018—in order to extend the brand of these groups in a symbolic public space. This idea was never acted upon or made public by any member, including Lavastida.

On 20 June, Lavastida returned to Cuba following a temporary residency in Berlin and was completing a mandatory six-day quarantine when he was arrested and brought to Villa Marista, a high-security prison in Havana notorious for the detention of political prisoners. If he is charged with “instigation to commit a crime,” Lavastida may be sentenced to pay a fine or serve a prison term of three months to one year. In addition to being denied habeas corpus, authorities have prevented Lavastida from obtaining legal counsel—in defiance of Cuban and international law. The prosecutors have repeatedly changed what exactly Lavastida is being charged with, underscoring the arbitrary nature of his detention.

An outspoken critic of the Cuban government, Lavastida is a leading member of 27N, a group of Cuban artists and activists that campaign against government restrictions on artistic freedom. He has touched on these themes repeatedly in his work, including a paper installation he presented in Berlin depicting the confession under interrogation of Cuban visual artist Javier Caso in 2010.

Lavastida’s detention—and the ongoing legal campaign against him—is part of a broader crackdown on artistic expression in Cuba that began in the wake of Decree 349, a 2018 regulation that gives the government purview to restrict the cultural sphere. The vague parameters of the decree regulate any artistic and cultural activity in Cuba, leaving artists, writers, and activists subject to government censorship. In recent months, they have faced particularly heightened dangers in Cuba.

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 America experts are available for interviews in English and Spanish. // Los expertos de PEN América están disponibles para entrevistas en inglés y español.**