Artist Hamlet Lavastida, whose imprisonment in Cuba became a flashpoint for a burgeoning political movement seeking artistic freedom in the country, was released after three months of detainment this past weekend. His girlfriend, the writer and activist Katherine Bisquet, said that she and Lavastida had been exiled to Europe.
Lavastida was arrested toward the end of June after returning from a residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. Cuban authorities accused him of “incitement to commit a crime” because he had stamped local currency with images related to San Isidro and 27N, two activist movements that seek to bring attention to crackdowns on artistic freedom in Cuba. After Lavastida was detained, Amnesty International named him a “prisoner of conscience.”
In his work, Lavastida has spoken critically of Cuban officials and attempted to represent abuses of power by linking the treatment of artists in the country to the political climate of Stalin-era Soviet Union. Speaking to Hypermedia in April, he called Cuba a “police state.”
Lavastida has been involved in the 27N movement, which grew out of a protest held on November 27, 2020. He is not the only artist affiliated with the movement to be detained, however. Tania Bruguera, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and others have also been arrested by the Cuban police over the past year.
Activists have called for Lavastida’s release. Julie Trébault, the director of a PEN America–run program focused on “imperiled artists,” said in a statement, “The spurious charges imposed on Hamlet—which was arbitrary in every way and lacked any semblance of due process—is emblematic of the lengths to which the Cuban government will go to silence those who defy them, and the special cruelty they reserve for those who, through the power of art, can move others to resist as well. Hamlet has always put the broader cause of artistic freedom and free expression above his own plight.”
Bisquet said on Facebook that she was remaining hopeful for Lavastida and herself. “There is a strength to grow,” she said. “A force that builds up in us.”