Bruguera and other Cuban artists detained ahead of protest over decree

HAVANA (Reuters) - Tania Bruguera and several other Cuban artists were detained in Havana on Monday after trying to stage a protest against a new decree that they fear will hamper creativity and increase censorship of Cuban culture.

FILE PHOTO - Cuban artist Tania Bruguera stands in the middle of her Hyundai Commission, Our Neighbours, artwork in the the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, in London, Britain, October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Bruguera, the most high-profile of the detainees, was arrested shortly after leaving her home in the morning and before reaching the ministry of culture where the artists intended to hold their protest, her mother, Argelia Fernandez, told Reuters.

The performance artist, who has been arrested before for publicly protesting against the Communist government, was released in the evening, Fernandez said, but immediately went to the ministry to demonstrate against the arrests of other artists.

“All I can do is show solidarity,” Bruguera wrote on her Facebook page early on Monday evening, posting a photo of herself wearing a T-shirt with the words “No to the Decree 349”. “If they detain me, I will be on hunger and thirst strike.”

Bruguera was reportedly detained again on Monday evening, according to Iris Ruiz, an actress and the coordinator of what has been a rare campaign in recent months against Decree 349, one of the first pieces of legislation to be signed by Miguel Diaz-Canel since he succeeded Raul Castro as president in April.

Fernandez told Reuters she had no means of locating her daughter because her cellphone appeared to have been blocked by state security.

Brief detentions are the standard response to opposition street protests in a country that frowns on public dissent and views dissidents as mercenaries in the pay of the United States to subvert the government.

Cuban officials do not typically comment on such police activity.

With Decree 349 due to come into force on Friday, protesters decided to step up their campaign with a demonstration all week on the steps of the culture ministry that would include poetry readings and performances.

Ruiz said her husband, the poet Amaury Pacheco, and another artist were detained after arriving together at the culture ministry on Monday morning.

Three other artists who also headed there, including campaign leader Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, could not be located, suggesting they had also been detained, Ruiz said. Otero Alcantara’s phone appeared to be turned off.

Few Cuban artists have chosen to protest against the decree publicly but unease is widespread in the island’s creative community and among Western diplomats in Havana. Amnesty International has called it a “dystopian prospect”.

Cuban authorities, however, have insisted it merely aims to prevent tax evasion and the spread of bad, pseudo-culture, and say that the issue is being manipulated by counter-revolutionaries.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Paul Tait