Sunday, November 25, 2018

Artistic expression under attack in Cuba: Decree 349, the Cuban Constitution and imprisoned artists

Repression against artists worsens.

Cuban artists against Decree 349 | Photo © Facebook / Luis Manuel Otero
Two Cuban rappers, jailed separately for opposing an unpopular new law, have gone on hunger strike to protest their unjust imprisonment. Cuba's constitutional "reform" has managed, for the most part, to make changes that will worsen an already bad human rights situation and new laws already passed that reflect a more hostile environment for artists. This has led to artists campaigning against the measure.

Rappers protesting Decree 349, a new Cuban law that censors the arts 
Lazaro Rodriquez Betancourt “Pupito en Sy” was arrested on November 12, 2018. He has been active in the campaign against Decree 349.  He is being held at the police station Zanja and Dragones and is accused of “assault.” He was walking down the street when the police began to harass him, beat him up and took him. His sister Aimara went to see him and found that he is neither eating food or drinking water, and that he is urinating blood, but refuses medical assistance due to the violent beating by police. 

Poet and musician Amaury Pacheco denounced the arrest and believes that it is a consequence of Lazaro's support for artists participating in the campaign against Decree 349. There have been others.

Rapper Maykel Castillo Pérez, "El Osokbo" unjustly jailed
In September of 2018 rapper Maykel Castillo Pérez, "El Osokbo" protested against Decree 349/2018 during a show. Three days after the concert, he was detained, and a case alleging that the artist committed assault against the police re-opened.  On November 15th Maykel sewed his mouth shut and began a hunger strike demanding he be freed.

This is not the first time that he has been the victim of a politically motivated prosecution. On January 28, 2015, Maykel Castillo Pérez was sentenced to a year in prison in Havana. He was targeted for having used music to express his dissenting political opinions. He was charged with the Orwellian crime  ‘peligrosidad predelictiva’ (‘pre-crime dangerousness’), which is used to imprison dissidents. His defense attorney told a reporter from Diario de Cuba that prosecutors wanted the judge to sentence him to five years. He once described his musical style as that of someone who “doesn’t make concessions with a system full of liars.”

The draft of the new Constitution's Article 95.h states that it protects artistic expression, but only when "its content respects the values of Cuban socialist society" which keeps the door open to more censorship.  Decree 349, signed into law earlier in 2018, further censors artistic expression and according to Cuban artists Tania Bruguera, Coco Fusco, Enrique Risco, Yanelys Nuñez  and human rights defender Laritza Diversent in an open letter restricts "the creativity of the Cuban people and criminalizes independently produced art, limiting the ability to determine who can be an artist to a state institution." Amnesty International issued a report that described this new law as "dystopian."

Amnesty International in their November 21st analysis, "10 ways reforms to Cuba’s Constitution would impact human rights," makes the case that what "appears to strengthen a host of human rights protections ... quickly limits them to what is already found in national laws." Undue restrictions on freedom of expression and online censorship continues along with "undue restrictions on freedom of assembly, demonstration and association." 

Below is a music video by Maykel Castillo Pérez from 2015

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