Tania Bruguera Among Artists Detained During Anti-Government Protests in Cuba

Amid growing protests across Cuba, state forces are cracking down on artists and anti-government demonstrators. An estimated 500 Cubans who were arrested during peaceful street protests last week face charges of inciting unrest.

Last night, Tania Bruguera’s studio posted on its Facebook page that she had been taken in for questioning by government forces. Her studio claimed she had been detained in relation to the arrest of fellow artist-activist Hamlet Lavastida, who remains imprisoned at the maximum-security prison Villa Marista. After 11 hours of interrogation, Bruguera was charged with organizing a demonstration on November 27 with the intent to overthrow the Cuban government, collaborating with Lavastida on anti-government demonstrations and performances, and planning a meeting with the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit organization which works to help make democracies worldwide more effective.

“To all this Tania responded with laughter given [the] falsity and nonsensical nature of all these accusations,” her studio wrote in its statement. “When the agent gave her the form to read, Tania took the pen she was given in order to sign and crossed out the two pages of the document and on the same page wrote, ‘I do not agree, this is false.’”

Lavastida was arrested after returning to Cuba from a residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. An outspoken anti-government activist, his work often incorporates revolutionary language. While in Berlin, he was presenting a series of works on paper, one of which featured a transcription of the confession of Cuban activist and artist Javier Caso from his interrogation by authorities last year.

Dozens more artists and activists have been arrested or disappeared by government forces since protests began. Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a leader of the San Isidro Movement, which fights censorship of artists and journalists in Cuba, was detained on July 11 while en route to protests at Havana’s Malecón boardwalk. He is scheduled to be transferred to the Guanajay maximum security prison, according to a report in Hyperallergic. Alcántara has been charged with contempt, resistance, and assault.

“I’m going to the Malecón, whatever the cost,” Alcántara said in a video streamed on his Facebook the day of his arrest. “Enough of political prisoners, we want democracy.”

In May, Alcántara was forcibly hospitalized by Cuban security agents in Havana amid a thirst and hunger strike in protest to a series of police raids on his home and studio. His hospitalization garnered international attention, with Amnesty International labeling him a “prisoner of conscience.”

Following his arrest a group of six artists, including Bruguera and Tomás Sánchez, requested that their work be removed from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Cuba in protest of his arrest, while 35 writers, artists, and activists released an open letter to Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel demanding his release. Among the signatories was artists Dawoud Bey, John Akomfrah, Theaster Gates, Julie Mehretu, and Carrie Mae Weems.

“Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is being detained solely for peacefully expressing his ideas through his art and for his nonviolent defense of human rights,” the open letter read.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the government has responded to the protests by cutting web and telephone services, making it more difficult for demonstrators to organize. Brigades of police and Communist Party militants were also deployed to quell dissent in the capital and elsewhere.

In a statement, the Cuban government blamed anti-government sentiment as orchestrated by U.S.-based “mercenaries” and the U.S.’s decades-long embargo for the island’s dire economic situation. “Cubans know perfectly well that the government of the United States is responsible for Cuba’s current situation,” Cuba’s foreign minister tweeted on July 11. “Cuba and its streets belong to the revolutionaries.”

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