The Arrest of Cuban Artist Hamlet Lavastida

Possible accusations to justify State repression

Hamlet Lavastida. Photo: Taen from his Facebook page.

By Frank Ajete Pidorich (el Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida returned to Cuba on June 20, 2021 after completing an artist residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Germany. Once on Cuban soil, he had to quarantine for a week. On June 26th, the day this safety protocol ended, he was arrested and transported to Villa Marista, State Security’s training facility.

Just like aggressors don’t like being called aggressors, totalitarian regimes seem to like to show off their cultural dominance. Maybe this is why Cuban political prisoners wear the common prisoner’s uniform. The Government turns politics into something “common”.

This transformation is a simple illusion, magic on stage. In the beginning, it surprises the public, deceives them, “inspires hope”, but it’s all an act.

The “Cuban government” is an illusionist, and one of its many tricks is this: converting political dissidents into your common prisoner.

I will now reveal this trick to you. Pay close attention.

(Curtain rises)

Hamlet is an artist. His work highlights some revolutionary political language to expose its totalitarian nature. An arrest that comes from his activism would suppose the existence of political motives and repression, this is a fact. Hamlet would be a political prisoner.

In early February 2021, Humberto Lopez showed a kind of organization chart of the 27N movement on Cuban TV. “27 accion” was one of the working groups that figured on the chart, which allegedly had the mission of planning concrete proposals to overthrow the status quo on the island.

In this TV broadcast, you can see the picture of a user identified as Hamlet Lavastida, who proposed to mark large denomination banknotes with symbols that refer to the San Isidro Movement (MSI) or the 27N. In order to do this, Lavastida proposed creating a stamp, or introducing one into the island, so they can begin stamping bills in circulation to give visibility to the civic resistance of these movements, and to highlight their presence.

In the meantime, a photo appeared with a Polish bill that had been stamped with a symbol of resistance in Poland called Armia Krajowa (Home Army) to give a visual reference for the proposal. Another user identified as Tania Bruguera immediately responds: “I’ll put it on my list”; which proves that it wasn’t a monologue or a written train of thought, but rather an exchange of ideas, a plan between at least two people.

Article 103.1 of the Cuban Penal Code describes a criminal figure called “Enemy Propaganda”, which is stipulated under Title I of Book II “Crimes against National Security”. It states: “Anyone who commits the following will be sentenced to one to eight years in prison:

“a) incitation against social order, international solidarity or the socialist State, via oral or written propaganda, or any other kind;

“b) the creation, distribution or possession of propaganda of the abovementioned nature.”

Article 12 states: “Both the committed offense and its attempt shall be punishable by the Law. Preparatory acts are only punished when they are offenses against National Security.”

Hamlet Lavastida’s behavior is typical, that is to say, it has been described in prohibitive legislation. His arrest would be the result of his own violation of a behavior classified in Cuban Penal Code as a crime. Thus, he is a common prisoner.

(Curtain falls)

The Cuban government gives too much importance to positivism and, as a result, has educated civil society to think positively. However, as Hans Kelsen would come to realize at the end of his days: the Law is not only regulations.

Maybe it was in this same vein that the Communist Party Politburo took haste to include a clause in the Cuban Constitution about the irrevocable nature of socialism. Maybe this is why Humberto Lopez is quick to point out that the Cuban Central Bank has a regulation in which it classifies bills stamped intentionally as “unfit”, and immediately and capriciously connects it to harming the national economy – as if paper money had the real value it represents. Maybe this is why government discourse is determined to bring up written prohibitions time and time again, taking them completely out of context when they do.

Charging Hamlet with the crime of enemy propaganda – or any other crime against national security, because Villa Marista is a facility for crimes against national security – is a poor positivist trick to transform him into an ordinary prisoner.

The State represents the people; all of the people, not only the people who applaud it. Hamlet Lavastida is just a fraction of this people and he holds a fraction of this sovereignty that all of the State emanates – according to Article 3 of the Cuban Constitution.

The State’s legitimacy and, as a result, its need for protection, comes from the transparency it has when acting as the people’s representative and never as a ruler before its people. When defending itself, a dictator, totalitarian State, engulfs those who expose it and demand the sovereignty that is rightfully theirs. They aren’t protecting Cuba’s national security, but the status quo that they benefit from.

It isn’t a matter of enemy propaganda, because this propaganda shines a light on an opposition that is asking for greater freedom for everyone – including you and I, denouncing excesses against many Cubans and is a voice that rejects and gets tired of the absurd (like what you and I might feel). It isn’t the enemy, it’s just propaganda.

Stamping bills with political messages, is not any worse than writing a mathematical sum on the same medium, in terms of material damage. The Government isn’t worried about the price of having to replace this piece of paper, but of having to deal with more daring citizens, with greater awareness.

Inciting against social order? This one that represses words if it can’t praise them and ideas if they aren’t their liking? Ego quoque. I would also deserve the same sentence if I did the same thing as Lavastida, the only difference is that I didn’t think of doing it with bills.

Peaceful opposition movements can never be understood as an act that compromises national security; it doesn’t matter how skilled the ilusionist might seem.

In this case, it’s a bad trick. The illusionist is bad too. Nevertheless, I admit that there are times I can’t understand some shows and that’s when I cling to the only truth that I know about magic on stage. The only thing that is normally real is what the illusionist reveals at the beginning of the act: a dove, a ball, a woman. The rest is part of the act. An illusion.

Let’s remember the beginning of this act: Hamlet is an artist. His work highlights some of the “revolutionary” political language to expose its totalitarian nature. An arrest that comes from his activism would suppose the existence of political motives and repression, this is a fact.

The rest is an illusion.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

One thought on “The Arrest of Cuban Artist Hamlet Lavastida

  • And then the most frustrating thing is when ppl that are not Cubans that going to viva for minutos and cheap sex telling you everything that the Cuban dictatorship does is justified because some others countries Violate human rights as well. 62 years if inept dictatorship, full of repression violations if the most elementals. Human rights is enough.
    Havana is falling literally apart there is scabies epidemic, not soap or water, hunger, long lines to buy food. Covid, and the top military elite is fabricating cases to turn obviously political prisoners in Common prisoners. How anyone can defend a regime so obsolete and repressive?

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