Luis Manuel Otero Talks about the Campaign against Decree-349 in Cuba

By Javier Moreno Diaz

Luis Manuel Otero. Photo: Yanelys Nunez

HAVANA TIMES – Decree-Law 349 has been circling in on the world of Cuban artists and creators, promising to criminalize their work and exhibitions/performances as of December 7th. The anti-decree campaign has been trying to raise awareness among both citizens and cultural authorities for months now.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara is one of the most well-known activists involved in the campaign and we sat down with him today to talk about efforts being made to save Cuban culture.

HT: How did the anti-349 campaign begin?

Luis Manuel: The campaign has gone through different phases. We are talking about a movement of artists, producers and cultural activists, so it has taken on many different dimensions.

It began with the displeasure of five people: Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Yanelys Nunez, Soandry del Rio and me. We found out about the Decree-Law when we were interviewed by a journalist from Radio Marti. We read the article and we realized that it was outrageous and that several people had Decree-Law 349 in their hands, but like everything in Cuba, it wasn’t being given importance and people weren’t aware of its consequences, until someone took the first step, there was concern but there was also laziness.

People are becoming aware about the importance of Decree-Law 349 and, take note!, that they can protest about it being implemented. That began when we held a protest in front of Capitolio in Havana. This action (performance/protest) went viral, everyone heard about it. Seeing the abuse we were subjected to: Soandry arrested, Yanelys arrested, Amaury arrested, Iris arrested, myself arrested, it made people concerned.

However, it wasn’t just us being arrested or Yanelys covered in excrement. We were artists who were raising our voices, standing up to something macabre and we were being repressed by the regime. Artists who have been working and taking action in Cuba for many years.

Yanelys and I are the youngest ones in the group, not just because of how old we are, but also in our experience in cultural activism. There are icons of Cuban culture within this movement, who have had all kinds of experiences and have a first-hand history which we don’t have. They are veterans.

Everything has come together and the anti-349 campaign is running its course as if by magic.

HT: How have people and artists reacted?

LM: Right now, there are different groups of artists: dependent ones, independent ones, not so independent ones, official ones, less official ones, every one of them is protesting in their own way, in parallel to us, from their own point of view. This has meant that the Cuban State is now rethinking Decree-Law 349.

HT: Have you received a response from the Ministry of Culture?

LM: If the Cuban government is one thing that’s being racist, elitist and not at all socialist. Up until today, they still haven’t met with us because they know that we will talk to them straight and that we aren’t playing any games. As there is a lot of fear, and they control everything, they have only met with the people they consider to “behave themselves”. However, we are all restless and this is something that they can’t put on the backburner because it’s going to explode in their faces.

Graffiti by Hamlet Lavastida

There is a lot of competition in the world of art and there are all kinds of people, people who don’t understand that somebody can do something for everyone’s wellbeing. I also want to have money, I also want to be famous, but the anti-349 campaign ISN’T A PIECE OF ART. It shouldn’t come into effect because it will affect everyone in the same way.

“Cuban Artists against Decree-Law 349” is our response because we are tired of the system. I am so fed up of them interfering in my life, in my home, that the Cuban State mediates or validates my work. In my opinion, Decree-Law 349 is an attack against Cuban culture which is being disguised as a struggle against trivial art and bad taste; at the end of the day, what is trivial art? what is bad taste?

Culture is a living space and we are demanding independent spaces which the State isn’t involved in, because if they are approving the existence of private bars, hostels, transport cooperatives etc., why can’t there be independent cultural cooperatives? They don’t accept that independent spaces are an option because that means they lose their absolute ideological hegemony.

They want to stick their noses in everything, they want to control everything, and neither myself or the San Isidro movement will allow it. They just politicize everything and when somebody opposes a policy they just label them an “enemy of the people”. They want to turn culture into political propaganda.

Let me tell you something, Cuban people are one of the bravest there are in the world. You go outside and you see that people aren’t keeping quiet, everyone is protesting and disagreeing with the system, which time has proven to be out-dated.

The problem is that Cuban intellectuals and opposition groups haven’t been able to channel this energy to make the system evolve, for many reasons, fear being one of them.

We want freedom. We want absolute freedom, which is why on December 3rd we will peacefully sit in front of the Ministry of Culture so that they meet our demands. We are artists, citizens and they need to respect us.