They Want to Turn Artists into Shit

Irina Echarry

Luis Otero being taking away by the Police.

HAVANA TIMES – The performance. They didn’t all arrive together: they each had a time and a function: to make sure everything was calm, smear themselves in excrement and document the event. It was going to be a very simple action: once covered in excrement, they would hang up a sign: “Free Art. No to Decree-Law 349”, on Capitolio building’s steps.

But, that isn’t what happened despite everything being super secret so that nobody would get news of it.

The police came and took away Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, Amaury Pacheco and Soandry del Rio. Then, they also took Iris Ruiz. However, outrage made Yanelys Nunez decide to become more directly involved. When she saw how they took Luis away, how they pushed him into the patrol car, she covered herself in excrement, grabbed the sign and began to walk.

They’re taking him but we’ll still do it, Yanelys thought. Crossing the street, they knocked her sign down and she was so annoyed when she reached the Capitolio that she began to talk to whoever was sat on the stairs. It was an impulse, her nerves were shot, she was uncomfortable, in pain, furious. Nobody said a word, they all listened quietly, as if they were hypnotized.

The protest

The protest isn’t only against this new decree-law. These artists have been waiting for a response to an open letter they sent to the National Union of Writers and Artists, the Hermanos Sainz Association, the National Union of Writers and Artists and the Ministry of Culture. The letter advocates for an end to censorship and harassment of those who think differently to what Cuba’s institutions accept, and they also called for a public meeting with everyone who was interested in the country’s future culture policies.

Waiting for a response to this letter, decree-law 349 was passed and it sent a very clear message: artists creating outside of the government’s cultural institutions won’t work in Cuba. This is what infuriates them and fills them with helplessness, that’s why they decided to take action.

Covered in shit, in front of lots of people, Yanelys demanded respect, she called for a meeting with the Minister of Culture and demanded her right to work in her country; she is a professional, not a criminal.

The decree-law

Decree-Law 349 gives censorship a green light, it’s a good control mechanism to more strictly censor musicians and artists’ presentations. Violations could be considered serious or very serious and self-employed workers are being threatened with fines, seizures or having their license taken away so that they don’t hire any artist without the Ministry of Culture’s approval.

Yanelys Nunez

The decree-law also sanctions painters or artists who sell their work without state authorization; musicians who commercialize their music without consent from their agency or the Ministry of Culture; those who screen videos which contain violent, pornographic scenes or sexist or vulgar language, “misuse” patriotic symbols or include discriminatory messages.

State bodies or private businesses will be sanctioned if their programming includes art exhibitions or music performances which promote violence with vulgar, obscene, sexist and discriminatory language. Literature hasn’t escaped this crusade either and the sale of books which include content which damages ethical and cultural values is prohibited.

Cultural policy

Naive people may think that the decree-law is just something to help bring order to private sector activities, or that it serves to regulate indisciplines which have been bothering people for a while, but, many people in the art world don’t agree and they feel like artists are being stripped of their rights. And if artists don’t have the minimum which is the chance to create freely, then they no longer have a reason to exist.

On Sunday afternoon, Amaury and Soandry were released with 30 peso fines for causing public disorder. Luis Otero Alcantara continues at the “Vivac” State Security facility.

Yanelys claims that this new cultural policy wants to convert artists into pure shit. Now, the question remains: Will we let them?

BREAKING NEWS: Luis Manuel Otero was released on Monday afternoon.  We will have more information on Tuesday.


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.