Cuba’s controversial Decree 349 officially came into effect on 7 December 2018, but it will be implemented “gradually”, according to local media 14yMedio.
The government in July published the new decree that institutionalises censorship of independent art and culture and establishes violations for artistic services that are not regulated and recognised by the official cultural institutions in Cuba.
Culture Minister Alpidio Alonso Grau said the new law targets “vulgar, offensive and mediocre content”, reported Reuters.
“The enemies of the revolution have tried to present the decree as an instrument for censorship and to ignore what cultural policy signifies,” Alonso Grau said during a roundtable discussion broadcast on state TV, according to Reuters.
He said authorities will consult with artists across the country about how the law will be enforced.
Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas told Associated Press on 4 December that government inspectors will only be able to shut down cultural events in extreme cases such as public obscenity, racist content or sexist content. All other decisions will be made by a group of inspectors. In addition, inspectors will cannot inspect any studio or home that is not open to the public.
He said the new law was designed to respond to public complaints about the misuse of patriotic symbols and vulgarity in popular culture, AP said.
“Artistic creation is not the target”, he said.
But in an open letter, Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera said Decree 349 will make independent art impossible.
“The Cuban government with Decree 349 is legalising censorship, saying that art must be created to suit their ethic and cultural values (which are not actually defined),” she said in the open letter to the director of Kochi Biennale on 10 December.
“The government is creating a ‘cultural police’ in the figure of the inspectors, turning what was until now, subjective and debatable into crime.”
Bruguera was arrested four times in the past week for protesting the decree, her sister Deborah Bruguera told Freemuse.
She was due to participate the Kochi Biennale in India this week, but has decided not to attend.
“At this moment I do not feel comfortable traveling to participate in an international art event when the future of the arts and artists in Cuba is at risk,” she said in the open letter (see below).
OPEN LETTER BY TANIA BRUGUERA TO THE DIRECTOR OF KOCHI BIENNALE ON DECREE 349
At this moment I do not feel comfortable traveling to participate in an international art event when the future of the arts and artists in Cuba is at risk. The Cuban government with Decree 349 is legalizing censorship, saying that art must be created to suit their ethic and cultural values (which are not actually defined). The government is creating a ‘cultural police’ in the figure of the inspectors, turning what was until now, subjective and debatable into crime.
Cuban artists have united for the first time in many decades to be heard, each with their own points of view. They had meetings with bureaucrats from the Ministry of Culture who promised them that they would meet again to give them answers. Instead, the Minister and other bureaucrats appeared on TV and made comments such as “[those who oppose Decree 349] want the dissolution of the institution” and “the alternative they are proposing is the commercialization of art.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. If this were true, the artists would not have written to the institutions and sought dialogue with them.
But, a public opinion campaign by the government against the artists, with the intention to divide between “good ones” and “bad ones”, has started. This is even more concerning when under this decree the law restricts but provides no guarantee of whether an artist will or will not be criminalized or not at any time.. Moreover, the decree states that all `artistic services´ must be authorized by the Ministry of Culture and its correspondent institutions, making independent art impossible.
The last time a decree of this sort was enacted was the no. 226 from November 29 of 1997, which is evidence of the long life that such a decree could have and its long term impact on our culture.
As an artist I feel my duty today is not to exhibit my work at an international exhibition and further my personal artistic career but to be with my fellow Cuban artists and to expose the vulnerability of Cuban artists today.
We are all waiting for the regulations and norms the Ministry of Culture will put forward to implement Decree 349 in the hope that they include the suggestions and demands so many artists shared with them. I would like to add that the instructor from the Ministry of Interior who is in charge of my case menaced me yesterday, saying that if I didn’t leave Cuba and if I did ‘something’, I would not be able to leave in the future.
Injustice exists because previous injustices were not challenged.
Ironically, I’m sending you this text on December 10th the international day of human rights.