It will be a massacre, says Cuban artist in exile on demonstration in Cuba – 10/16/2021 – World

When Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced a rapprochement between the US and Cuba in 2014, artist Tania Bruguera tried to perform in Havana’s Revolution Square.

The work would be a part of his well-known series “Whisper of Tatlin”, which consists of an open microphone for people to express themselves. That was just one of the times she was arrested.

Recognized for her work exhibited in renowned and traditional museums and exhibitions such as London’s Tate Modern, Kassel’s Documenta and the art biennials in Venice and São Paulo, Bruguera, 53, decided to leave the island in August to accept an invitation from Harvard University.

From the US, it supports the demonstrations by Cuban artists’ and dissident collectives against the regime. The next protest, scheduled for Nov. 15, has already been banned, but activists say they will take to the streets anyway. “It will be a massacre,” she tells Folha, through a voice call.

Bruguera, one of Cuba’s best-known freedom of expression activists, alongside Rosa Payá and blogger Yoaní Sánchez, is also campaigning for foreign artists and curators not to participate in the upcoming Havana Biennale, scheduled to take place in November.


Why did the movement ask the regime’s permission to take to the streets on November 15th? Did you consider that this authorization could eventually be given? We wanted to use the Constitution, since the dictatorship itself has been advertising that Cuba’s laws, since 2019, allow for free association and peaceful demonstrations. We wanted them to be forced to speak out publicly, so the denial would show that the new Constitution is not as democratic and modern as they advertise.

What will happen on November 15th? It is possible that a lot of people are afraid, but I believe that most people who are angry will come out the same way — and it will be a massacre. If in July, when they weren’t waiting and everything happened spontaneously, we had one dead, hundreds wounded and arrested, imagine now that they are already parked at the door of those who can demonstrate?

In any case, the protest may come as a surprise, because people are no longer so scared, and there is a possibility that former allies and people who have never been involved in politics and are concerned only with economic and health issues will also speak out. Then you won’t be able to arrest or repress everyone. And there are also a lot more angry people now than in July. Because during all this time of pandemic, with the economic situation deteriorating, the regime asked for many sacrifices from the population and made no attempt to hide that they, the powerful, were doing very well.

Out there

How has been the repression and persecution of those who took to the streets in July? Intense, brutal, following that kind of manual of satanization and repression they’ve been using since the revolution [1959]. Many have been arrested, but it is not just about arresting. It’s harassing, threatening families, monitoring networks, scaring. These mechanisms are the same and, in the long run, they work, because people get tired, they start thinking about their personal life. This guy who is now showing his face, Yúnior García, from the Arquipélago collective, is being demonized on TV, in magazines, in the place where his family members work. It’s holding up for now, who knows how long.

They have already done this with many colleagues and with me. In one of the campaigns to pressure me to leave the island, they even published my phone number on the telediário. Not everyone can put up with this campaign for very long. It’s efficient for them, because locking everyone in jail together isn’t possible. So they play this game of satanization, of discrediting, until the person gives up or leaves the country. If they can’t, they thicken, imprison, disappear with family members. It’s an old script and, so far, very efficient.

Was it like this with you? Yes, they arrested me more than once. They interrogated me, then left me secluded at home and watched over. But I started to have a name abroad because of my work. Once, in an interrogation in the torture room, they said they would never convict me because they didn’t want me to become an Ai Weiwei [artista e ativista chinês], someone who was heard everywhere.

So they were pushing in other ways. They wanted me to leave Cuba permanently, and I said I wouldn’t go. Then there was a chance to teach at Harvard, and I pressed him to trade that for the freedom of a group of political prisoners. They ended up accepting and releasing most of the ones I traded. But that’s not definitive, and I hope I can go back. I’m currently living between Boston and New York, but I have half my family in Cuba and part of my life there.

What is different today from the times of Fidel and Raúl Castro in terms of freedom of expression and opposition? There was something before today that has disappeared. It was a great concern of the regime with the image that Cuba had abroad. So when strong complaints arose, the government found a way to turn it around. Softening the person’s situation, releasing some things, negotiating gently, or pushing more subtly. the difference with [o líder de Cuba Miguel] Díaz-Canel is that he doesn’t care about Cuba’s image, he doesn’t care if he’s going to look like a repressor, a dictator.

Another difference is the artist’s place. Cuban singers, actors, filmmakers and artists were the pride of the regime, they were part of the system’s banner of success. And that’s why there was always respect. Díaz-Canel came to power brutally, imposing censorship laws, persecuting, calling us criminals. With the Castros, artists had more credit, today they are insulted by all means and called agents of the enemy. And the government is in a complicated situation, because they formed us. Cuba’s great artists were trained in the island’s excellent schools. And now they’re repressing us.

What is the role of networks in these new protests? It’s crucial, but the regime has been strong there too. In Cuba, you can arrest someone for a Facebook post. There is a lot of surveillance. If a person is in prison and a family member posts a criticism of the regime, they can know that this person is going to be tortured, they will answer for it.

The amount of effort to control the official narrative is huge, and so far they’re winning, it’s a very difficult battle to win these days. But if they block WhatsApp, there are other apps. If they take down the internet, there are those who can post from abroad. It’s like covering the sun with a sieve. They’re winning for now, but I don’t think it will last long.

Like other artists, you defend the boycott of the Havana Biennale, scheduled for November 12th. Why? The Havana Biennale is a very important event and a great help for the projection of Cuban art. Last year, it was canceled due to the pandemic. And this year, with the economic, health and political crisis, it makes even less sense to have an art biennial, which is why we defend that invited foreign curators and artists refuse to participate.

Clearly this is a strategy of the dictatorship to cause distraction, to sell an image that everything is fine in Cuba — but it isn’t. We want to make it clear that any support from foreigners for this biennial can be seen as something immoral.


Tania Bruguera, 53
Daughter of a Cuban diplomat and politician, she is one of the island’s best-known artists, especially for her activism in defense of freedom of expression. He has exhibited his work in renowned museums and exhibitions in London, Venice and São Paulo.

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