Cuban Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara Released on Tuesday

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested on Monday afternoon. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 June 2019 — The police released artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on Tuesday afternoon after he spent 24 hours in the San Miguel del Padrón police station, the independent artist explained to 14ymedio.

By telephones, moment after his release, Alcántara related that he was arrested on Monday in the middle of the street. The artist claims State Security officers along with uniformed National Revolutionary Police (PNR) who led him to a patrol car.

The arrest came shortly after Alcántara announced his participation in a performance at the Museum of Dissidence in Cuba, which consisted of holding the Cuban flag on a balcony for a period of 24 hours at a ninety degree angle. During the arrest, the police confiscated one of the banners that he was going to use in the artistic action. continue reading

May the country contemplate you with pride? is the name of the performance that, despite the repression, was carried out. “We did everything, the reading, the action with the flag and then a party,” one of the members of the San Isidro Movement told this newspaper.

“Once again they talked to me about public space, they say that everything inside the house is fine but they will not allow anything to happen in the public space. I told them that the balcony was part of my house but they say no, and well, we can go on like this for 70 years because I am going to continue making my art despite the arrests,” explained Otero Alcántara.

This work is the last of the series SeUsa, a work that received criticism from officialdom. In particular, the peformance with the American flag was described as “annexationist” by Fernando Rojas, the vice minister of culture.

In his Twitter account Rojas wrote “Thousands of exhibitions, hundreds of artists, millions of Cuban men and women, the great popular festival of visuality in Cuba, that three annexationists will not tarnish. They dressed children in the US flag and made them parade down the street, they abuse goodness and innocence.”

Last April, the artist, who is also a member of the San Isidro Movement, suffered an arbitrary detention that prevented him from carrying out this action, planned in the context of the XIII Havana Biennial.

The piece was a tribute to Daniel Llorente, “The man with the flag,” and consisted of young people from the neighborhood running 66 meters wearing a T-shirt with the Cuban flag and holding the American flag on their heads. The action recalled the protest of Daniel Llorente, on May 1st of 2017, in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Otero Alcántara is known on the island for his rebellious art and was one of the most visible faces in the fight against Decree 349, which restricts the freedom of creation of artists. In 2016 he created the Museum of Dissidence in Cuba with Yanelys Nuñez, a project that aims to approach the history of the Island with an independent and critical view.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The B Side of the Biennial

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested on Thursday, the day the Biennial began. (14y middle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 April 2019 — On Thursday, April 11, while in the halls of the National Museum of Fine Arts the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozcowas preparing an exhibition, and on the terrace of the Spanish Embassy the duo Clandestina finished mounting its installations, the independent artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested in Damas Street when he carried out one of the actions he had planned for the XIII Biennial of Havana.

The most important artistic event in Cuba started with wide coverage in the official and foreign press. The media announced new features such as the multiplication of stages of the Havana-based event, which this year is also happening in Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Camagüey, and the motto of the Biennial — “The Construction of the Possible” — and the participation of more than 300 creators from 52 nations.

But none of them spoke of the flip side of the event. The arrest of Otero Alcántara came during a performance with which he was trying to pay tribute to Daniel Llorente, known as ’The Flag Man’ since he was arrested in 2017 while ’crashing’ the May Day parade waving an American flag. According to Eliezer Llorente, his son went missing more than two days ago. continue reading

The writer Abu Duyanah Tamayo, who witnessed the arrest, told this newspaper that when he arrived at the artist’s street, in the neighborhood of San Isidro, “they were putting him and two other boys in the patrol car.” According to his testimony, the boys were running toward their homes “because the police came screaming” but the officers entered the houses, took them out and took them away.

“They took the phone from Luis Manuel, and they tried to take ours from us when we arrived , but in the end we resisted and they didn’t.”

“The Biennial is a whole energy that gets into every corners and I am an artist and the Biennial is mine too,” Otero Alcántara had told 14ymedio before his arrest, when he had not yet specified a date or place for the action.

“I have three projects, and one of them is a tribute to the man of the flag, a race that will be called Daniel Llorente and in which every Cuban of and age can participate. It will be a 66 meter race, the distance Llorente ran in the Plaza of the Revolution on May 1st. Everyone who runs has to do it with an American flag and a Cuban flag, the first three will have their prize and their medal,” he explained.

The artist, who days before suffered another detention to warn him of the consequences if he went ahead with the performance, says he senses fear in the Government “This is a symbolic regime that has never been able to solve anything on a practical level, everything is hope, the illusion and the symbolism, “he said.

Installation of the clandestine duo in the Embassy of Spain. (14ymedio)

Otero Alcántara’s actions are part of the “Se USA” project. “The other work I’m going to do is a walkway outside my house, on the street, and with models that will be people from the neighborhood.” I will make a fashion show with 10 designs that I chose among the more than 80 that Chanel had when she did hers in the Prado, combining those Chanel designs with garments that Cubans wear a lot, in shorts, lycra, shirts, t-shirts, handkerchiefs, with the imagery of the American flag.”

As an artist, he is interested in talking about “that ultra-pathetic nationalism and patriotism” that power builds “to dominate, control and tell you that you are a traitor,” if you do not do things as they planned. “Why can’t Daniel Llorente go out with the flag if he wants. Why to you wantto make me an enemy, I feel like an enemy but I have to assume it because you impose it on me?” he protests.

This edition of the Biennial should have been celebrated in 2018, but its organizers postponed it because of the damage caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma. This decision gave rise to a group of independent artists, among whom, as a visible face, was Otero Alcántara, who took the initiative to organize the #00Bienal last year, an alternative call that was demonized and repressed by the Government and cultural authorities.

Hall of the Universal Art building of the Museum of Fine Arts with the pieces of the artist Gabriel Orozco. (14ymedio)

Since 1984 the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, together with the National Council of Plastic Arts and the Ministry of Culture, among other institutions, have been responsible for organizing the Havana Biennial.

The galleries of the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro de La Habana, the Havana Collage, the Ensemble Workshop, the National Museum of Fine Arts and independent studios such as Del Castillo Art Studio or El Apartamento will remain open until May 12 as part of the exhibition.

In the last decade, with the birth of alternative spaces, activities that take place in independently managed galleries have also been added to the event and are included as part of the collateral actions. Provided they abstain from any criticisms of the Government, they will be allowed to exist.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

An Open Letter on the Situation in Venezuela

Protesters in Venezuela support of Juan Guaidó on January 23. (jguaido)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  Ernesto Hernández Busto, 15 March 2019 —  Poor Venezuela! After having undertaken what it announced as a radical process of social transformation, a process intended to mark a turning point in Latin American ideology and guarantee a project of social equality baptized as “21st century socialism,” today the country has ended up becoming a despotic compound, where not only are the most basic political rights violated, but one in which a person can barely survive with a minimum of dignity. From the promised emancipation to compulsory destitution; from the dream of the continental left to the prototype of failure, despair and exodus: such is the sad journey of the so-called “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Given the serious political and humanitarian situation that Venezuela is going through today, we the undersigned, Cuban intellectuals who reside inside and outside the island, demand that the Cuban Government ackknowlege the evidence of the social and humanitarian disaster, refrain from intervening by any means in the political conflict of that nation, and withdraw its numerous “cooperators,” both civilian and military, who are working in that country. After six decades of a failed revolution, after the collapse of that “Cubazuela” celebrated for years by the Castrochavism, it is time for Cuba to stop exporting or stirring up conflicts in other countries under the pretext of ideological solidarity, and to ensure they can subsist with their own resources, without exploitation or interference of any kind.

Signers of this open letter

Ernesto Hernández Busto, writer; Ladislao Aguado, writer and editor; Carlos A. Aguilera, writer; Janet Batet, curator and art critic; Yoandy Cabrera, academic; María A. Cabrera Arús, academic; Pablo de Cuba Soria, writer and editor; Enrique del Risco, writer and academic; Armando Chaguaceda, political scientist; Paquito D’Rivera, musician, composer and writer; Néstor Díaz de Villegas, writer; Manuel Díaz Martínez, writer; Jorge I. Domínguez-López, writer and journalist; Vicente Echerri, writer; Abilio Estévez, writer; Gerardo Fernández Fe, writer; Alejandro González Acosta, writer and academic; Ginés Gorriz, producer; Kelly M. Grandal, writer; Natacha Herrera, journalist; José Kozer, poet; Boris Larramendi, musician; Felipe Lázaro, writer and editor; Rafael López-Ramos, visual artist; Jacobo Machover, writer and academic; Roberto Madrigal, writer; María Matienzo Puerto, writer and journalist; L. Santiago Méndez Alpízar, writer; Michael H. Miranda, writer and academic; Carlos Alberto Montaner, writer and journalist; Adrián Monzón, artist and producer; Lilliam Moro, writer; Luis Manuel Otero, artist and activist; Amaury Pacheco del Monte, writer and artivist; Geandy Pavón, photographer and visual artist; Gustavo Pérez-Firmat, writer and academic; José Prats Sariol, writer; Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, writer; Alexis Romay, writer; Rolando Sánchez Mejías, writer; Manuel Sosa, writer; Armando Valdés-Zamora, writer and academic; Amir Valle, writer; and Camilo Venegas Yero, writer and journalist.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"The Fight Against Decree 349 Will Continue," Insists Amaury Pacheco After Being Released

Group of artists who promote the campaign against Decree 349. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 December 2018 — On Wednesday, around eight-thirty in the evening, Yanelys Núñez and Luis Manuel Otero were released, according to what they told 14ymedio when they left the Vivac de Calabazar Detention Center after protesting Decree 349.

“First we were in the eleventh unit of the San Miguel de Padrón police station, there we spent Monday night and on Tuesday they took us to Vivac (the State Security detention center), and when we arrived they did not want to accept us because Luis was on-strike and they returned us to the unit but in the night they accepted us (at Vivac) and we stayed there until they let us go. During the interrogations they told us that if we protested again in front of the Ministry of Culture they would accuse us of illegal association and demonstrating without permission.”

Núñez explained that Luis Manuel Otero, after leaving prison after more than 48 hours on hunger and thirst strike, had taken a soda. continue reading

On the other hand, on the night of Tuesday, the artists Amaury Pacheco and the producer Michel Matos were released, according to Pacheco himself, speaking to14ymedio after being released

Both were detained in the midst of a repressive wave by State Security against a peaceful sit-in in front of the Ministry of Culture (Mincuult) headquarters as a part of the campaign against Decree 349. Pacheco explained that his hunger strike will be maintained “as long as any artist is in prison” and he will return this morning to the Ministry of Culture if Yanelys Núñez and Luis Manuel Otero are not released during the night.

Pacheco said that when he arrived at the Ministry of Culture on November 3, both he and Matos were detained and that they spent most of their time in the police unit of the municipality of Regla. “Michel was taken first to Guanabacoa but then they brought him to the same jail where I was in Regla, there they interrogated us and told me that if I went back to Mincult I would be imprisoned for one to three years,” he said.

This newspaper was also able to speak with artist Tania Bruguera after she was released on Tuesday night after her third arrest, including her first arrest at the beginning of the protest. “They held me from nine in the morning until nine at night but they did not take me to a unit, they left me inside the car until three thirty in the afternoon at La Puntilla and then they took me to a house that is beyond Lenin Park, by way of Calvario,” explained the artist.

She says that at every moment the agents told her they would take her home but when she expressed her desire to return to the Ministry of Culture, that proposal was postponed until finally at nine o’clock in the evening they left her at the door of her house. During the detention in the house where the artist was taken, they offered her water and food, even though she had told her captors that she was on a hunger and thirst strike.

“They took me to a room with a table covered with food, I told them I was not going to eat, then they gave me a cold water bottle but I told him to keep it and later they also offered me ice cream but I also refused,” says the renowned artist.

“You know how I react when someone is imprisoned because it happened in 2014, I will talk with no problems when no one is being held prisoner,” Bruguera told the agent.

The musician Sandor Pérez Pita, from the reggae group Estudiantes sin Semilla (Students without Seed), was also released in the afternoon.

The artist Amaury Pacheco had affirmed that he maintained his hunger and thirst strike until they released the rest of the artists and that “the fight against Decree 349 continues.” In a video posted on his social networks he said this entire battle is being fought “for art, for freedom of expression.”

In conversation with 14ymedio, Tania Bruguera said that the intention was to return on Thursday to the Ministry of Culture to demand again the release of Yanelys Núñez Leyva and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara to establish a dialogue with the institution and to ask for a response.

Artists from several countries have mobilized since Tuesday in favor of the release of the group of artists who oppose Decree 349. The director of the Tate Modern gallery in London, Frances Morris, expressed on Twitter that these arrests clearly illustrate the threats many artists around the world are facing.

Also this Wednesday afternoon a public session was held in the Turbine Hall to say “No to Decree 349” and provide support to detainees through an open microphone to those who wish to participate.

The Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy and Labor of the US State Department wrote on its Twitter account that “the Government of Cuba continues to criminalize freedom of expression while besieging artists and journalists to discourage protests against Decree 349.”

Meanwhile, Silvio Rodríguez wrote a comment on the blog Segunda Cita that “Decree 349 may have very good intentions but I’m sure it would be better if it were discussed with the artists.” He added that “it was something cooked up among the few” and that in his opinion “a disposition of this scopes must have a more democratic origin, and a purpose.”

“Perhaps there should be a moratorium on the decree, until an acceptable modification is discussed and resolved, and I do not know whether I will be able to work abroad as I have been doing, starting next year. I began to work on my own in the face of the very inefficient state contracting and coordination mechanisms,” the troubadour wrote.

Deborah Bruguera, Tania’s sister, wrote: “While on the phone with Tania Bruguera, Lt. Col. Kenia took her in a car, right at the corner of the MINCULT.” The artist sent a public statement “of the artists who have called for the sit-in at the Ministry of Culture of Cuba,” that her sister shared on social networks.

We reproduce the text in its entirety:

We have decided to make a call to sit peacefully and respectfully to camp, meditate, read poetry, dance, paint or perform any artistic activity in front of the Ministry of Culture because:

1: The artists of all the demonstrations, have carried them out in an organized way and through institutional channels to request the repeal of Decree 349 and its subsequent drafting with the assistance of the artists.

2: Even though these groups have met with leaders of the Ministry of Culture, the promises that they have made to respond have not been met and, failing that, a technical article was published in the Granma newspaper on November 30, justifying the validity of the current Decree 349, along with a bombardment on national television of programs with explanations in favor of 349 in its current format. This seems indicative to us that Decree 349 will not be repealed because this seems to be an action with the purpose of setting the population against our demands.

3: [The government] has commented that regulations and corrective rules will be made for the implementation of Decree 349. This seems insufficient because, given that the Decree has serious errors of representation and puts artists in a state of vulnerability, by criminalizing them and their works, we do not believe that it is appropriate to proceed with how to implement the Decree, if not the Decree itself.

4: December 7th is approaching, the date on which Decree Law 349 will become effective. We are asking for a meeting open to all with the Minister of Culture to inform us what has been the result of the meetings held with the artists and what will happen with Decree 349.

We want to receive from the Ministry of Culture the same respect towards us that we have had towards them. We will continue presenting ourselves to the Ministry of Culture to ask for our right to a response and open meeting with all the artists.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Government Puts the Brakes on Full Implementation of Decree 349, Proposing it be Gradual

Deputy Minister Fernando Rojas said that those who oppose the Decree want to present it as “an act of censorship” (EFE / Archivo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 December 2018 — The Cuban government has decided to stop the full implementation of Decree 349, a few days after it also backed off on fully implementing a package of measures to control the private sector. On Cuban TV’s Roundtable program this Friday, Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso, announced that the unpopular Decree 349 will only be applied in a “consensus” and “gradual” manner.

Alonso blamed the controversy generated by the decree, which would regulate artistic expression, to problems of interpretation and defended the need to put an end to “vulgarity, bad taste, intrusion and mediocrity.” However, he acknowledged that the Decree, which went into effect on December 7, still does not regulate “certain areas of art promotion and cultural services that currently have no legal standing.”

The minister responded to the flood of criticism that Decree 349 has provoked, but avoided naming the artists who have staged numerous protests outside the Ministry of Culture, such as Tania Bruguera and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, or others who have expressed their discontent in social networks, including the well-known actor Luis Alberto García. continue reading

None of the voices that have opposed the regulation were present on the television program, which featured Fernando Rojas, Vice Minister of Culture; Rafael González Muñoz, president of the Hermanos Saíz Association; and Lesbia Vent-Dumois, president of the Association of Plastic Artists of the government-run Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), who argued in favor of implementing the measure.

Rojas said that “the enemies of the Revolution want to present Decree 349 as an act of censorship” and  Rafael González Muñoz mentioned the criticisms “published in the blog Segunda Cita,” but without mentioning its author, the troubadour Silvio Rodríguez, a figure strongly allied to the official ideology who, in recent months, has been launching criticisms of the management of Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Decree 349 has caused an earthquake in the island’s artistic community, where independent and alternative spaces have grown in recent years. In a country where there is an increasing number of recording studios in private homes, private premises that hire musicians or comedians directly, and producers of audiovisuals outside government institutions, the regulations constitute a return to the times of greater centralism.

The measure establishes that atists must be linked to cultural entities under government control and, only then, can they obtain the necessary permits to present their work in spaces open to the public, such as private galleries. To ensure that it is applied, the Ministry of Culture enlists a group of inspectors who can close an exhibition or end a concert if they consider that it is not part of the cultural policy of the Revolution.

The artists see in these powers a political underpinning, disguised as a fight against vulgarity, and one that could start a witch hunt against uncomfortable and creative works that openly criticize the ruling party.

Article 2.1 of the Decree lists among the offenses that will be penalized that of providing “artistic services without being authorized to perform artistic work in a position or artistic occupation.” A point that Rojas nuanced this Friday, when he stressed that it is not a battle against amateur artists and that it is not mandatory to stay in a state institution.

During the program, there were interviews with the troubadour Heidi Igualada, with Digna Guerra, director of the National Choir of Cuba, and with the actor Fernando Hechavarría, but none of them criticized the Decree. Fernando Medrano, a choreographer from Camagüey, added that the regulations were conceived to confront “uncouthness, vulgarity and bad taste.”

All the guests of the program alluded to misunderstandings and misrepresentations that had fomented the dissatisfaction around the regulation, and Lesbia Vent-Dumois detailed that with the Decree “knowing how to read is knowing how to interpret,” which meant that “they could not read.” The official criticized the critics of the measure as “ignorant” and “ill informed.”

For his part, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the most well-known faces against the regulations, believes that Friday’s official statements are intended to “dampen the commotion raised by the campaign against the Decree among artists.” It is a strategy “to divide the campaign, but the campaign will continue.”

“From the legal point of view, what matters is the Decree and not what a minister who can be dismissed tomorrow says,” the artist said. “Once again legality in this country is ignored,” and he lamented that several artists “were manipulated” in the interviews that were broadcast on the Roundtable program.

Decree 349 details up to 19 “contraventions” or violations of the law, including organizing concerts, recitals or exhibitions without the authorization of the Government or divulging audiovisual or culturalcontent that is violent, pornographic, discriminatory or offensive towards national symbols.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Customs Confiscates Opposition T-Shirts at Havana Airport

T-shirts against Decree 349 seized by Cuban Customs at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, November 6, 2018 — The campaign against Decree 349, an article in the the proposed new Cuban constitution which includes strict rules on artistic expression in public spaces, has collided with Cuban customs restrictions. Upon her return to the island, artist and activist Yanelys Nuñez reported on social media that customs officials at José Martí International Airport  had confiscated eight T-shirts with anti-decree slogans she was bringing from the United States.

On Sunday Nuñez and a fellow artist, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, returned from a three-day trip to Miami, where they had been participating in an artistic event. The items, which were produced in the United States by Cuban-American designer Coco Fusco and were adorned with an illustration by Alén Lauzán, were seized after customs officials had inspected their baggage. Two of the shirts belonged to Nuñez and the other six to Otero. continue reading

“As soon as they saw ’349,’ they told us it was subversive propaganda,” the activist explained to 14ymedio. She and Otero had travelled to the United States to participate in an event organized by a not-for-profit organization, Creative Time, entitled “On an Island: Defending the Right to Create,” at which they made a presentation critical of Decree 349.

The artist has already said she will file suit in Havana to reclaim the two shirts that were confiscated and is currently receiving legal advice.

Before boarding their flight to Miami, Nuñez and Otero were detained at the airport while their luggage was being searched. Though authorities did not confiscate anything at the time, the delay caused them to miss their flight on American Airlines. Later that afternoon they were able to catch another flight to Miami on the same airline.

The main complaint of those critical of Decree 349 is that, in every case, artists must obtain prior approval from a cultural organization, which they are forced to join, before executing their work. This requirement directly impacts those who create work outside a state-sponsored framework. The result is that the content of their work is subject to regulation.

The campaign against Cuba’s Decree 349 is important to Yanelys Núñez because “the government survives on its image.” Her goal is for more artists and cultural institutions to “speak out against this blatant censorship by the Diaz-Canel government.” She plans to continue exerting significant pressure to achieve its repeal.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba’s Independent Artists Denounce the "State of Exception" They’ve Faced Since 1959

Yanelys Núñez, Nonardo Perea, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Luis Manuel Otero, Soandry del Río, and Michel Matos in a protest action against Decree 349. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana | 17 September 2018 — The group of independent artists who since July have been carrying out a campaign against Decree 349 reports that “since the triumph of the Revolution, in 1959, there has existed a state of exception when it comes to the freedom of artistic creation and expression” in Cuba and that a considerable number of “creators and cultural projects have flourished from their own will and creative capacity, but then been taken down by the powers and the official institutions that rule national life.”

The text is part of the San Isidro Manifesto, presented this past Wednesday by the group as one more of their actions against the rule that regulates artistic presentations in private spaces and against which they have been mobilizing since July. The document, which is circulating on media, is signed by Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Yanelys Núñez, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Michel Matos, Hamlet Lavastida, Soandry del Río, Verónica Vega, Lía Villares, Yasser Castellanos, and Tania Brugera, among others. continue reading

Its launch took place at the venue of the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art (MAPI), in the San Isidro neighborhood of Old Havana, and musicians, poets, writers, audiovisual directors, producters, and plastics artists joined the act.

Yanelys Núñez read the text, which invites “any individual who feels like part of this phenomenon that today we call ‘the independent'” to participate in the campaign aimed at the repeal of Decree 349, and urges a dialogue that will allow the review of cultural policies that the State institutions are attempting to impose.

Later, the attendees made a pilgrimage to the Malecon to ask the patron of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, for the annulment of the law.

The manifesto mantains that the law “legitimizes the use of judicial action to punish the free creation and determination” that belongs to them as artists and individuals and says that it “stimulates corruption” through the creation of the figure of the supervisor-inspector “taking into account that inspectors are one of the most corrupt sectors of the regulatory apparatus of the State.”

On July 10 the Council of Ministers approved Decree 349, focused on “the violations regarding cultural policy and over the provision of artistic services” which will enter into full force in December.

The artists who defend the repeal of the law believe that this “is destined not only to control and intimidate artists and creators from various branches of the national culture, but also in the private business sector, to impede a natural and organic relationship inside the different spheres of Cuban society.” In addition, they believe that it “threatens with legal warnings, fines, and seizures of equipment or property used as a platform for the creation and dissemination of independent works.”

The decree grants to the “supervisor-inspector,” they emphasize, the authority to suspend immediately any performance or show that he understands to violate the law, having the ability to go to the extreme of canceling the self-employment license to practice work.

“We understand exactly that any nation in the world must regulate its internal activities, receive taxes if those become lucrative, just as they must safeguard internal order and peace,” point out the artists. However, in their view it is “inadmissable to accept the existence of a confusion of laws” that only aims to control the artistic sector and “punish it for its independent expression and action.”

The group of artists believes that the “only logical aim” this law appears to have is to maintain “the ideological primacy in a highly centralized state.”

Some of the artists complain that the official press has tried to distort the intention and origin of the campaign against Decree 349 and clarify that they are only asking institutions to listen to them and that they are not calling for “either neither anarchy nor confrontation.”

However, they maintain that these laws and rules are impossible to comply with because “they don’t adjust to the national reality at the present time” and because they are “abusive, disproportionate, and they violate international norms and agreements.” For this they direct their proclamation “to all men and women of good will” and invite their support.

“We are determined to come together as a group to begin a collection of sociocultural actions like this as calls for international attention to halt the imposition of a complex of laws that insults all Cubans,” they state.

On more than one occasion this group has suffered political repression for trying to carry out public acts to support and defend their campaign against the decree. On August 11 various artists who wanted to participate in a concert at the MAPI venue suffered the repression of police who showed up at the place along with officials from State Security to stop the action. On that day, which ended with the detention of several of the artists, neighbors from the San Isidro neighborhood went out to the street to condemn the conduct of those in uniform.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Artists Arrested Protesting in Front of the Capitol Against Decree 349

Left: Yanelys Núñez, after covering her body with excrement as a protest for the new controls on cultural diffusion. Right: The moment of the arrest of the other participants. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 July 2018 — Artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Amaury Pacheco OmniPoeta, Iris Ruiz, Soandry Del Rio and José Ernesto Alonso were arrested on Saturday afternoon in front of the Capitol in Havana after an attempt to protest against the recently approved Decree 349 that regulates artistic presentations in private spaces.

According to Yanelys Núñez, a curator, the artistic action consisted of Luis Manuel Otero “covering his body with human excrement” and displaying a sign with the words “free art.”

When Núñez arrived at the Capitol, she saw that a police patrol was holding the five artists in custody and decided to do the performance on her own. “I’m covered in shit now but I’m on my way to the police station at Cuba and Chacón to ask if they are there,” she told this newspaper by telephone.  continue reading



At six-thirty in the afternoon, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara also denounced the arrest to 14ymedio by telephone from the Zanja Police Station and confirmed that Iris Ruiz, Amaury Pacheco and Soandry del Río were arrested along with him. 

Upon arriving at the station at Cuba and Chacón at around 8:30 in the evening, Yanelys Núñez was able to converse with José Ernesto Alonso, who had recently been released after having been detained there, and Iris Ruiz was also released shortly afterwards.

However, at the Zanja Street police station in Centro Habana, the officers informed the curator that Luis Manuel Otero, Amaury Pacheco and Soandry del Río were transferred to Vivac (detention center in Calabazar, south of Havana) “accused of public disorder,” and all three of them must await trial behind bars. Otero was also charged with “assault” against the police, for allegedly hitting one of them.

During the protest that took place in front of the Capitol, the curator shouted that they were against Decree 349. “We are artists, we want respect, we ask to meet with the Minister of Culture,” she said. He also claims that Otero Alcántara was beaten to put him in the patrol and that Pacheco was taken away because he refused to show the identity card to the police. 

Several artists have denounced that Decree 349, published on July 10 in the Official Gazette, limits the free creation of Cuban artists and their presentations in public spaces.

The new decree, included in a larger package of measures, is intended by the Ministry of Culture (Mincult) to control the presentations of artists and musicians and to leave the door open to institutional censorship. The text establishes fines, seizures and even the possible loss of the self-employment licenses of those who hire musicians to perform concerts in private bars and clubs as well as in state spaces if they do so without having authorization from Mincult or the recruitment agencies.

In the same way, the decree punishes painters or artists who commercialize their works without state authorization. It also allows punishing those who project films that contain scenes of violence, pornography, sexist or vulgar language, use national symbols in a way that goes against current legislation or have messages that discriminate against other people because of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, disability and any other trait that is “harmful to human dignity.”

According to the letter of the decree, state entities or private businesses that broadcast music or program artistic presentations in which violence is promoted “with sexist, vulgar, discriminatory and obscene language” will be sanctioned in the same way. The decree also applies to literature by prohibiting the sale of books of “natural and legal” persons that include “contents that are harmful to ethical and cultural values.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Independent Artists and Galleries Join a Biennial Outside Official Institutions

The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is one of the promoters of this independent artistic initiative. (Adonis Milan) (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 February 2018 — The organizers of the Havana #00 Biennial, an independent event whose celebration is scheduled from May 5-15, have won the support of several artists and independent spaces on the island, according to Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the promoters of the initiative, speaking to 14ymedio.

Among the artists who have confirmed their participation in the event are Lázaro Saavedra, winner of the 2014 National Plastic Arts Prize, and the well-known Tania Bruguera, founder of the Hannah Arendt International Institute of Artivism Hanna Arendt (INSTAR).

Also planning to participate are independent exhibition spaces and artistic projects such as Aglutinador, managed by Sandra Ceballos, and the Riera Studio of Samuel Riera. The list is completed by the independent gallery El Oficio, together with the studios Yo Soy El Que Soy and Coco Solo Social Club.

The #00 Biennal is being convened by the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art (MAPI), a section of the Dissidents Museum located in Old Havana.

Otero Alcántara explains that within the 10-day program they plan to stage activities in different areas of the city. In each space they plan to fuse the visual arts with other cultural manifestations.

“One day is dedicated to Alamar with the Omni-Zona-Franca project and in the municipality of Habana del Este we are going to call a festival of sand sculptures, there will be performances, graffiti and concerts at night,” he says.

Another day of the independent event will take place in Guanabacoa, around in the studio of David de Omni, an experimental musician who works in rap and reggae, but also poetry.

Artists from Spain, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, the United States, Romania and several countries in the African continent have also confirmed their participation, according to Otero Alcántara, who explains that some still prefer to maintain their support anonymously to avoid reprisals from the authorities, among which would be preventing them from entering the country.

Others, such as the Mexican Yvelin Buenrostro and the Spaniards Antonio Mas and Alicia Torres, have already decided to make their presence public, including the Cubans Jose Luis Marrero, Yuri Obregon, Los Serones, Adonis Milan, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Yasser Castellanos, Sam 33, 2 + 2 = 5, Happy Zombie, Yoanny Aldaya, Italo Expósito and José Ernesto Alonso.

Since this alternative biennial was initially announced, organizers explained that it was conceived “before the decision of the Ministry of Culture, the National Council of Plastic Arts and the Wilfredo Lam Center to postpone the celebration of the XIII Biennial of Havana until 2019, as a consequence of the damages caused by Hurricane Irma. The official biennial was originally scheduled from October 5 to November 5, 2018.”

To finance the independent event, its developers have started a Crowdfunding campaign through which they hope to obtain the $20,000 that they have set as budget to move the project forward.

With this arts festival they seek to “support the development of Cuban culture at a time when the country is experiencing a strong crisis of faith, an increase in the banality and despair.” The managers of the initiative consider it “essential not to delay the Biennial event and to implement if with the minimum resources.”

After announcing the schedule of the event, the Association of Artists of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) circulated an email warning that “unscrupulous people” were “trying to organize provocations” to divide the artistic guild.

The last edition of the Havana Biennial was held between May and June 2015. In its three decades of life, the artistic event has gone through different stages where creative effervescence prevailed over the harmful effects of economic crisis and censorship.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Luis Manuel Otero: From Athlete to Dissident Artist / Iván García

Iván García and Luis Manuel Otero, photo by Yanelys Núñez

Ivan Garcia, 15 February 2018 — He’s like a character out of a dark novel by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez. He turned 30 on December 2, 2017, and the life of Luis Manuel Otero has been marked by survival.

He still remembers the 12-hour blackouts when he was a kid, in the middle of the Special Period. The empty, grimy pots and the unmistakable color of El Pilar, his neighborhood in the Havana municipality of Cerro.

The section of Romay Street, from Monte to Zequeira, doesn’t even go 100 yards. It’s narrow and unpaved. The houses are one-story. The only building that had three floors collapsed from lack of maintenance. continue reading

The house of the Otero Alcántara family, at number 57, is typical of early 20th century construction, with tall pillars and large windows. Throughout the night, women are sitting in the doorway, gossiping, while the men take up a collection to buy a liter of bad rum, steal detergent from the Sabatés factory or kill the boredom with a game of baseball in the old Cerro Stadium.

Luis Manuel grew up there, on a poor block full of tenement housing, where drugs and psychotropics are a rite of passage, the young people are abakuás (devotees of the African religion) and problems are solved with guns or machetes.

His father, Luis Otero, used to be a dangerous guy. He always was mixed up in legal problems, and jail became his second home. In prison he became a welder, and the last time he left the Combinado del Este prison, he promised he wouldn’t return.

María del Carmen, the mother of the artist and a construction technician, is a “struggler,” like most Cuban women. When she was pregnant with Luis Manuel, his father was in jail.

“Let’s see what happens,” she said to herself. She acted as mother and father for a long time. Perhaps because of maternal overprotection, she opted to bring him up behind closed doors at home.

Luis Manuel Oteros, a mulatto with an adolescent expression, gestures with his mouth and mentions that to escape from that reclusive life, “I made my own wooden toys. I had this gift from the time I was little. I don’t know who I inherited it from, because there’s no other sculptor or visual artist in my family. I spent hours and hours talking alone. I created scenes and imaginary characters. And from childhood, I vowed to be someone in life,” he said, seated on a wooden stool and leaning against the wall of his studio on San Isidro in Old Havana.

Then he went to school. “I spent primary at Romualdo la Cuesta and secondary at Nguyen Van Troi. I always had a piece of wood in my hands. My grandmother was working in Viviendas, and this was during the years when Cubans decided to emigrate. The State confiscated their property, and many people gave her things, used clothing and household appliances. So we had a washing machine, but I hardly ever had shoes, only one pair that almost always was torn. I went to school wearing hideous boots or plastic shoes,” remembers Otero, and adds:

“I was nine or 10 years old, and like all the kids in the area, we were looking for a way to make money to help out at home, to buy things or go to parties on weekends. A friend and I from the neighborhood decided to remove bricks from buildings and abandoned houses. At that time, recycled bricks were selling for three pesos on the black market, but we sold them for two. One afternoon, my mother caught me doing this and beat me with a rope all the way home.”

Before getting involved with visual arts, Otero spent four or five years training as a mid-distance runner on a clay court at the Ciudad Deportiva.

“I wanted to get ahead. I appreciated the discipline and commitment of sports. I ran the 1,500 and 5,000 meter-dash. I had prospects. I was training hard to reach my goal: to escape from poverty. But in a competition in Santiago de Cuba, in spite of being the favorite, I came in fourth. I wasn’t programmed for losing. So I decided to study and try sculpture and the visual arts.”

In his free time, he and a friend sold DVDs for three convertible pesos in the streets of Nuevo Vedado, and he made wood carvings. “A cane that I made ended up at a workshop that Victor Fowler had in La Vibora. I was 17 and started to become serious about sculpture. I attended many workshops. I always had a tremendous desire to learn, study, better myself. I’m a self-taught artist and a lover of Cuban history. I also slipped into the courses offered by the Instituto Superior de Arte. It was an exciting world.

“When I went home, I went back to reality. Mediating the fights and blows between my father and mother or the problems that my younger brother had,” remembers Luis Manuel, leaning on an ancient VEF-207 radio of the Soviet era, dressed in mustard-colored pants and a white pullover with the faces of the Indian Hatuey, José Martí, Fidel Castro and the peaceful opponent, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara had an exposition for the first time in a gallery in Cerro, on the Avenida 20 de Mayo, in 2011. “I called it, ’Heroes are no burden.’ It was wooden statues of men from the trunk up, without legs. I dedicated it to the soldiers who were mutilated during the war in Angola. I personally invited a dozen combatants who had been in the struggle. I was tense, waiting to see what the reaction would be, but the show was very well received.”

The statue from which the “Heroes are no burden” exposition took its name (Havana Times)

He had already begun his political activism by then. “I had too many questions without answers. I saw that the expectations of society were not taken into account. I had no way out. Everything was a bunch of blah, blah,blah, speeches with no meaning. In private, the majority of artists recognized that things should change. Cuba is crazy. It’s also true that there’s a lot of opportunism in the artistic world. Hustling is normal in this environment. I saw that something should be done,” commented Otero, in a deliberate tone.

And he decided to work on his art with a new focus. December 17, 2014 was a date to remember. “That noon I was amazed to see Raúl Castro and Barack Obama on television. I felt that a new epoch was beginning. That the worst was behind us. That a stage of reconciliation and national reconstruction would begin. That was the feeling among most people: that there would be more negotiations, that finally we would have a better level of life. People had tremendous hope. It was a dream that was contagious.”

But the Regime put obstacles in the way. The greatest optimism passed to the worst pessimism. The resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. was purely an illusion. More press headlines than concrete initiatives that will improve the quality of life of Cubans.

Luis Manuel Otero remembers that Rubén del Valle, the Vice Minister of Culture, “said, and no one told me, I was still here, that they were going to need several shiploads to be able to sell all the works of Cuban culture. The feeling that many artists had was that in the biennials and events, Americans would start buying valuable artistic pieces. I wanted to make something, to be in fashion. My sin was in being naive.”

Barely one month before, on November 25, 2014, Otero performed downtown on Calle 23, on the Rampa, which was noted in the international press. “At that time I had an American girlfriend. The intention of the performance was to ask her to marry me at a wifi site that had become popular, with no privacy and people screaming and asking for money and other things from their families. I did a stripper act on the corner of L and 23, accompanied by two mariachis. On that occasion, perhaps out of surprise, State Security didn’t interrupt me.”

A little after this, he broke up with her and started courting Yanelys Núñez, who had a degree in art history, and a main piece in her present project at the Museum of Dissidence. Otero is like a box with push-buttons: hyperactive, suggestive and creative. In the middle of a conversation, an idea of his next performance came to him.

“Sometimes I take two or three days tossing around an idea for a work. And it’s in the middle of the night that a concrete idea comes to me. Then I wake up Yanelys and we go to work. With the last one, the Testament of Fidel Castro, it was more or less like that. The George Pompidou Center in Paris asked me for a sample that I was going to make. What occurred to me was the testament of Fidel inside a bottle of Havana Club rum. I implied that at the end of his life, he repented of all the harm he did,” emphasizes Alcántrara.

Right now it’s not at all clear to him. But perhaps before, during or after the succession directed by Raúl Castro, he will start a new project. April, Luis Manuel speculates, could be the month he gets lucky.

Translated by Regina Anavy