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Cuban Activists Release Manifesto Against the Criminalization of the Arts

Following the Cuban government’s introduction of a new decree that aims to eliminate independent cultural activity, artists and activists across the island have banded together to issue a manifesto condemning the legislation.

Decree 349, which will go into effect in December, was one of the first laws signed by Cuba's new president Miguel Diaz-Canel. Essentially, it gives the country’s authorities the power to restrict artistic freedom by allowing them to fine artists, confiscate materials, seize property, and shut down cultural events that haven’t been approved by the government.

Released on Wednesday, September 12, the ten-point manifesto—called the Manifesto de San Isidro, after the Old Havana neighborhood and arts hub—reads: “Decree 349 seeks to control and intimidate artists and creators of multiple branches of national culture.” It also demands government representation for artists and a meeting with officials. 

“It is unacceptable to accept the existence of a confusion of laws that are not intended to enthrone and safeguard the citizen, but rather, to control and punish him for his independent expression and action,” the document reads. “The only logical end seems to be to maintain the ideological primacy in a highly centralized state.”

It continues: “No cultural action, ever, should be reason and reason for police repression and abuse of authority. We call our institutional counterpart to listen and understand us, to accept a dialogue that could only bring peace and stability to the nation in the hours of the future.”

Signed by fourteen artists and cultural figures—including Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Yanelys Nuñez Leyva, the organizers of the first independent Bienal de La Habana, which was targeted by authorities when it was held earlier this year—the manifesto has been submitted to the state and was written in order to advance the stipulations of an open letter coauthored by artists Tania Bruguera, Laritza DiversantCoco Fusco, Nuñez Leyva, and Enrique Risco in August. The manifesto’s authors are aiming to garner more than ten thousand signatures in support of Cuban artists’ rights.

According to Fusco, the signatories “want to be considered a movement. They want to be able to question the mandates and practices of their institutions and have the right to seek financing for their art outside government structures, and they do not want to be subject to censorship imposed by inspectors.”

The announcement of Decree 349 has sparked numerous protests and has resulted in the arrest of demonstrators publicly speaking out against the legislation. In response, activists and cultural figures from across the globe have expressed support for Cuban artists and individuals working in the country’s cultural sector.

Among the organizations rallying against the new law is Amnesty International, which issued a statement saying it is concerned that the recent detainment of artists and proposed legal actions are “ominous signs of things to come.” The text continues: “We stand in solidarity with all independent artists in Cuba that are challenging the legitimacy of the decree and standing up for a space in which they can work freely without fear of reprisals.”