"They Warned Us That Cuba Can’t Turn Into Another Nicaragua," Say Detained Artists

Caption: Detained along with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara were the journalist Yania Suarez, Yanelys Núñez, Michel Matos, and Yasser Castellanos (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 13 August 2018 — The artists of the campaign against Decree 349, who tried to organize a concert on Saturday at the house of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, were freed at the stroke of midnight on Sunday.

Otero Alcántara explained to 14ymedio that he and Yanelys Núñez were arrested in the early afternoon on Saturday when State Security and the police surrounded his home, which houses the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art (Mapi).

“They detained us on the corner of Damas and San Isidro, a few hours before the concert, when we went out to get a few things we needed, they took us in two patrol cars, one for her and the other for me,” the artist said from outside the Zapata and C Police Station after being freed at the stroke of midnight on Sunday.

“At the moment of the arrest they didn’t tell us anything, but when we were in the station State Security arrived for an interview and they warned us that Cuba can’t turn into another Nicaragua, they are very worried,” added Otero Alcántara. He also said that detained with him in the station were the journalist Yania Suarez, Yanelys Núñez, Michel Matos, and Yasser Castellanos.

According to testimony that the actress Iris Ruiz offered to this newspaper by telephone on Saturday afternoon, officials blocked entry to the house under the pretext that they didn’t have permission from the Ministry of Culture to have the party with the musicians. In face of the prohibition the creators drew a hopscotch court in the street to play and “pass the time relaxing,” explained Ruiz.

She also explained that agreeing to withdraw would mean “that the right to make alternative art is finished and that we give up in the face of this law that hasn’t yet come into full force.”

For Ruiz it was important to remain and apply pressure because if not “they next time they’ll come with the same thing and every time we do an activity, we’ll have to ask permission from the Ministry of Culture,” and it would also mean “the acceptance of this law that we are rejecting.” Again and again artists were threatened and the artist says that they were asked to withdraw or else the patrols could come to disperse them.

Finally the artists entered the house, but police agents arrived and threatened Luis Manuel Otero’s mother that they wouldn’t let her son go and that they would take away her house in the event she wasn’t evicted.

During the telephone call the voice of the poet Amaury Pacheco could be heard yelling, “No to Decree 349.” “All of us here in the middle of the street were detained, the first time they managed to put Amaury in a patrol car but they couldn’t take him because,” as the actress recounts, “the people pulled him back out” and the crowd celebrated with applause and cheers. “This is the fifth action but we’re not going to stop until the decree is knocked down,” proclaimed Iris Ruiz.

Since the beginning of the week several of the artists who had publicly demonstrated their support for the concert received summons from State Security to be interrogated. For others, like Gorki Águila, on the same day of the gathering a police operation surrounded his house to prevent him from leaving his home.

Yasser Castellanos, rapper and plastic artist, told 14ymedio that he was summoned to the Cuba y Chacón police station. “In general the point is to discredit the organizers of the event, calling them delinquents, and to warn us that they weren’t going to permit us to hold the concert.” Also summoned were Soandry del Río, Ras Sandino from the group Student without Seed, the urban artist Karnal, and the members of the group Social Conflict.

The gathering for the concert is part of the “No to Decree 349” campaign which aims to give visibility to the demands of a group of independent artists who emerged from a debate over the content and scope of the law. Among the artists who were expected to participate in the Concert Without 349’s Permission were Soandry del Río, La Alianza, Hip Hop de Barrio, Gorki Águila, David de Omni and Amaury Pacheco.

Decree 349 prohibits “the provision of artistic services” without the prior approval of the Ministry of Culture and requires that “commercial centers of plastic arts” have prior authorization and be registered in the “Creators’ Registry.”

The organizers of the campain against the decree claim that the law is meant to eliminate the work of independent artists who in recent decades have earned their space working at the margins of institutions.

Otero Alcántara believes that it is a response to the production of the recent #OOBienal and it affects other artists who have organized their own workshops and independent galleries, like Tania Brugera or the artists Italo Expósito and Luis Trápaga, both expelled from the Creators’ Registry at the end of the alternative event as retaliation for taking part in it. Both Expósito and Trápaga have alternative cultural spaces in their homes where they organize exhibits and concerts.

Decree 349 will come into full force in December and it provides for fines and confiscations of instruments, equipment, accesories, and other goods from the offenders.

David de Omni, one of the artists arrested outside Mapi, says that “the people in the street don’t like what happened here on Saturday” and that “very few people yelled ’Long live the revolution!’ and those slogans that they always order them to say.”

The artist saw in the crowd an older man “who yelled ’Long live Fidel’” but only two or three followed him “because the majority of the people in the street were calling the police abusers and asking them to let us go.” He says that when they carried him off in the patrol car he felt the noise of “many hands hitting the roof of the car and voices saying, ’Don’t take him.’”

“I was detained in the Dragones police station for a few hours but nothing will stop us fighting against Decree 349 and we’re going to keep up with these actions until they get rid of this law,” he warned.


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