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April 13, 2023
Cuban visual artist Hamlet Lavastida, detained for more than two months in Villa Marista, the feared Cuban state security headquarters in Havana, could have written the script about his arbitrary arrest.
Lavastida, who has exhibited his work deconstructing Cuba’s state propaganda and repressive tactics in major international galleries, earlier this year told Hypermedia magazine he found a clear connection between the Stalinist trials and the current repression against independent artists in Cuba.
Cuba “is a police state,” Lavastida told the magazine. Then he got a firsthand experience of what his words mean. After Lavastida returned to Cuba from Berlin, where he was an artist-in-residence at the cultural center Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Cuban state security agents arrested him on June 26, at the end of mandatory COVID-19 isolation for travelers. He meant to stay for a while and then return to Europe to visit his Polish son, but state security had other plans.
Lavastida was labeled a leader of an increasingly vocal artistic movement that staged a public protest last November demanding freedom of expression. From the moment of his detention, he has been under constant interrogation, according to his girlfriend, Katherine Bisquet, a writer and member of the 27N artistic movement.
“Hamlet is imprisoned for many reasons,” Bisquet told the Miami Herald. “As a lesson to all intellectuals in exile who have a desire to come to Cuba to join the civil society; to pressure me and others to leave Cuba and thus deactivate the activists’ groups we have created; out of sheer fear and paranoia; to make him another bargaining chip, in short, for everything that serves them as a demonstration of power and control.”
“Hamlet is an artist who, due to his line of work, has studied the discourse of power with great precision,” Bisquet said. “In other words, Hamlet’s work has served as a mirror, as a reflection of the same trappings of the dictatorship. And this the government does not forgive.”
Amnesty International recently declared Lavastida a prisoner of conscience, along with other people arrested in connection to the spontaneous anti-government protests that erupted across the island on July 11. Other organizations such as Human Rights Watch and PEN International have called for his release.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: FL TIMES