Meet the new boss; same as the old boss! Decree 349, one of the first laws signed by Cuba’s new
president dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel when he assumed power in April 2018, went into effect on 7 December 2018. (Here is the full text of the law, in Spanish.) Under this draconian decree, all artists are prohibited from operating in public or private without prior approval by the government. Individuals or firms that hire artists without prior authorization can be punished, and artists who work without prior approval can have their materials confiscated or be substantially fined. Below the fold is Amnesty International’s strongly-worded condemnation of this humiliating restriction of artistic freedom in Cuba:
Amnesty International is concerned that [Decree 349] contains vague and overly broad restrictions on artistic expression. [You don’t say!] For example, it prohibits audiovisual materials that contain, among other things: “use of patriotic symbols that contravene current legislation” (Article 3a), “sexist, vulgar or obscene language” (Article 3d), and “any other (content) that violates the legal provisions that regulate the normal development of our society in cultural matters” (Article 3g). Furthermore, it makes it a [criminal] offence to “commercialize books with content harmful to ethical and cultural values” (Article 4f).
Prohibiting artistic expression based on concepts such as “obscene”, “vulgar” or “harmful to ethical and cultural values” does not meet the tests of legitimate purpose, necessity and proportionality required under international human rights law. The lack of precision in the wording of the decree opens the door for its arbitrary application to further crackdown on dissent and critical voices in a country where artists have been harassed and detained for decades. This would not only contravene the right to freedom of expression of artists in Cuba, but the right of every person in the country to seek and receive information and ideas of all kinds.
International human rights law and standards require that any restriction to the right to freedom of expression, including through art, must be provided by law and formulated with sufficient precision to avoid overly broad or arbitrary interpretation or application, and in a manner that is accessible to the public and that clearly outlines what conduct is or is not prohibited. Restrictions must also be demonstrably necessary and proportionate for the purpose of protecting a specified public interest which, under international human rights law, are only national security, public order, and public health or morals, or the rights or reputations of others. ***
The rights to freedom of opinion and expression are essential for the full development of any person or society, and are key to enabling individuals to exercise other human rights. As such, under international law, states have a duty to protect the free expression of ideas and opinions of all kinds, including when deeply offensive. Laws restricting insult or disrespect of heads of state or public figures, the military or other public institutions, flags or symbols are prohibited under international human rights law.
The blanket requirement for prior authorization by the Ministry of Culture of an artist’s work to be shown in public, as set out in Article 2.1 [of Decree 349], would also impose controls over the exercise of artistic expression that may amount to prior censorship and would exceed the permissible restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.
Amnesty International is further concerned that Decree 349 is likely to have a general chilling effect on artists in Cuba, preventing them from carrying out their legitimate work for fear of reprisals.
Why is art a crime in Cuba? Will my so-called “progressive” academic colleagues join me in boycotting Cuba and in denouncing the Cuban government until this repressive censorship law is repealed, or will they remain silent as usual?