Dissident artists in communist Cuba are facing increased repression and censorship by the Castro dictatorship, but they are not allowing the regime to silence their art or their voices.
Losing the battle: Cuba’s dissident artists find ways around censorship despite government crackdown
Since the passage of the country’s repressive Decree 349, the state has gone to great lengths to silence critical voices—but artists refuse to be silenced
In Cuba, censorship has escalated because the political infrastructure of the country is collapsing incrementally, a thesis supported by the artist Hamlet Lavastida’s testimony that “Castro was the law but now he’s gone, the people in power do not have legitimacy”. In a country where the judiciary is not separate from any branch of government, artists are subject to harassment that appears unrestrained. (The Cuban embassy in London did not respond to queries about restrictions.)
The Cuban government has arguably become more totalitarian with Miguel Díaz-Canel at the helm in the positions of both First Secretary of the Communist Party and President of the State, a position he filled in April 2018. The new leader—not a Castro for the first time in 40 years—has employed the pretext of government legislation to clamp down on creative expression under a Communist regime, where Decree 349 requires artists to register for a government-issued licence. Under Decree 349—published in July 2018 and implemented the following December—all artists, including collectives, musicians and performers, are prohibited from operating in public or private spaces without prior approval by the Ministry of Culture. Amnesty International noted that the decree is likely to have a generally restrictive effect on artists in Cuba, preventing them from carrying out legitimate work for fear of reprisals. The human rights organisation notes that “the decree contains vague and overly broad restrictions on artistic expression”, paving the way for “its arbitrary application to further crackdown on dissent and critical voices”.
The Cuban government says it has not fully implemented Decree 349, but dissident artists have been persecuted in many ways since the law went into effect via hostile interrogations, fines, detentions and performance cancellations, says Coco Fusco, a Cuban American artist and writer. But another less publicised law has had an equally calamitous impact on the freedom of artists. Decree 370 curbs communications on social media, further censoring the dissemination of information on the island of Cuba, a law that has been further tightened in late 2021 by the introduction of Decree 35, which introduced stricter controls on the use of social media.
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