Artist Tania Bruguera showing the bruises she received at the hands of Cuban police during her most recent arrest (screenshot via Facebook)

Artist Tania Bruguera showing the bruises she received at the hands of Cuban police during her most recent arrest (screenshot via Facebook)

This weekend artist Tania Bruguera was arrested once again in Cuba, along with dozens of other activists, and was manhandled by the police. As with most information about Bruguera over the past few months, the news — which Hyperallergic has not been able to independently verify — comes via the Facebook page for her project #YoTambienExijo (“I also demand”), which was a planned participatory performance on New Year’s Eve in Havana’s Revolution Square that led to Bruguera being arrested multiple times. Cuban authorities also confiscated her passport and are allegedly pressing charges against her.

On Sunday, June 7, Bruguera was visiting and observing a weekly silent protest by the Ladies in White, a group of female relatives of imprisoned dissidents who attend mass every Sunday at the St. Rita of Cascia Church in Havana wearing white, then march through the streets with photos of their missing loved ones. Bruguera attended in part because she’d heard that the Ladies in White had been attacked and arrested by police for the last eight Sundays, and this one was no different: according to a Facebook post, police descended in a raid “which included 3 buses, several patrol cars, 2 motorcycle police and more than a hundred agents of the National Revolutionary Police.” Bruguera was not beaten — the Facebook post says she received “special treatment,” and in an interview with PanAm Post, she clarified that an officer specifically said, “not her, not her, she’s Tania.” Still, she says she was pulled by the hair, thrown into a bus, and handcuffed. The Facebook post claims that she has “several hematomas” on her arms due to her handling by police, and another one shows photos of the severe bruising.

The Ladies in White in Havana in 2012 (photo by Wikipedia user Hvd69)

The Ladies in White in Havana in 2012 (photo by Hvd69/Wikipedia)

Bruguera had also been attending the Ladies in White protest as research for a new project she’s working on, “to present a law which will penalize violence due to political hate and which would propitiate freedom of expression in public spaces,” according to a Facebook post. The legal research is one of two branches of her current work in Cuba; the other is the establishment of the Hannah Arendt International Institute for Artivism, which she inaugurated with a 100-hour reading of the philosopher’s landmark book The Origins of Totalitarianism in her home beginning on May 20, Cuban Independence Day. The Havana Biennial opened two days later, and two days after that, when she finished reading, Bruguera was arrested again. (On May 23 she was also denied entry to the Museum of Fine Arts for an opening to which she’d been personally invited.)

Those in charge of the #YoTambienExijo Facebook page have been stressing the importance of framing Bruguera’s actions as art, not politics: they’ve posted a 2010 “Political Art Statement” by Bruguera that outlines her thoughts on political art — “It is intervening in the process that is created after people think the art experience is over” — and a clarification about her current position (translated by Hyperallergic):

The only group Tania Bruguera belongs to is the platform #IAlsoDemand, which is the structure of her work. Tania does not belong to any group of opposition, nor of dissidence, nor of activism in Cuba. Tania is an artist who works in an independent manner with EVERYONE … Tania is not an opposition, nor a dissident, but an artist who works with political art and who believes that art can help transform the social and political reality we live in.

Bruguera was released around 4pm on Sunday after her arrest. Forty-seven Ladies in White and other activists were detained along with her, according to PanAm Post.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

9 replies on “Artist Tania Bruguera Arrested Again in Havana, Injured by Police”

  1. Right, she is part of the anti-Castro cuban right wing in the US. So the hell with her. This is the *activism* of the fascist right, in fact. Who are the *dissidents* then? See, conditions are far worse in US prisons, and the US imprisons more people per capita and real than anywhere in the world and most are, de facto, prisoners of race and poverty. So what does it mean to be *pro democracy*? The US is the world leader in human rights violations, not democratic. The US has no free elections, one or another millionaire runs for national office. Why not protest the US sanctions against cuba and the harm caused. Or the CIA attacks in Latin America, death squads and dictators the US supported. No, this is the protest by a comfortable US resident cuban who wants the return of western business and control to Cuba. Here….”Finally, as Bea Santiago wrote, nothing can justify detaining an artist for exercising her speech. But the detention needs to be understood in light of recent USAID efforts to plant astroturf social media in Cuba to overthrow the government. Bruguera denies working with any US funding or logistical support”. But of course she does get USAID support. That makes her like many in the Miami exile community of right wing pro Batista cubans. The rhetoric includes terms like Castro’s tyranny etc. For all that is wrong with Cuba, there is more that has been right about that revolution. But you wouldnt know from western sources. And i just find it curious that her real audience is western and not the cuban people. But my point is only that the media is very uncritical when it comes to rhetoric about castro, or chavez, or correa or any leader in the global south, today. Background here

      VICTIMS OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTION – Cases up to January 25, 2012
      Batista regime: March 10, 1952 – December 31, 1958 – Castro regime: January 1, 1959 – Present – Deaths & disappearances attributed to the Cuban state
      Non-Combat Victims of the Castro Regime: Work-in-progress-Documented Cases Total = 10,500
      “Balseros” (rafters estimate to 2003) = 77,833 victims
      This work documents loss of life and disappearances of a political or military nature attributed to the Cuban Revolution. Each documented case is available for review at The Cuba Archive and substantiated by bibliographic/historic data and reports from direct sources. Due to the ongoing nature of the work and the difficulty of obtaining and verifying data from Cuba, the following totals change as research progresses and are considered far from exhaustive. Cuba Archive is currently examining additional cases -most are expected to be added to this table. Experience has shown that as additional outreach efforts are undertaken, many more cases are likely to be uncovered.

    2. VIDEO #1: La cárcel por dentro – 1ra parte (The prison from inside part #1)

      YouTube video

      VIDEO #10:Testimonio del reo Marcos Damián Rafael Fernández Rodríguez (cubano)- Testimony of prisoner Marcos Damián Rafael Fernández Rodríguez (Cuban man with no hands)- (Cuba) –

      Ten videos smuggled out of Cuba’s biggest and reputedly worst prison, in an unusually daring operation by a dissident, show grotesquely dirty toilets, grimy walls, leaking sewage and food described as worse than “animal feed.”

      “Show this video to the international community, how this miserable dictatorship commits cruelties against humanity,” says the videos’ main narrator, an India citizen serving a 30-year sentence in Havana’s high security Combinado del Este prison.

      Havana dissident journalist Dania Virgen García, who writes the blog “Cuba por Dentro” — Inside Cuba — said the videos were shot in late January with a digital camera smuggled into the prison “so that everyone can see Cuba’s reality.”

      The videos — which also showed several inmates, including a U.S. citizen complaining about prison conditions — appeared to be the first ever smuggled out of Cuba’s 200-plus prisons. Their views of prison buildings matched those of the Combinado del Este prison.


      In 2010 and 2011, the human rights situation in Cuba continued to be worrying and precarious and the Cuban Government remained hostile to any criticism at the national or international level. Within Cuba, political opposition and more generally, freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly
      and association, continued to be strongly repressed using force, judicial harassment and arbitrary detention2. An international in situ visit on the human rights situation in the island was once again prevented from taking place. In this respect, Mr. Manfred Nowak, then United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, expressed his enormous disappointment that he could not agree on a date with the Cuban Government for his fact-finding mission before the end of his mandate, on October 30, 20103. Added to this, observation of the human rights situation in Cuban prisons continued to be prohibited and was viewed as an act of “treason” or an “attack on Cuban sovereignty”.

      The above is particularly alarming taking into account the difficult situation in Cuban prisons. Excessive and abusive imprisonment4 is one of the main reasons for the massive overcrowding which currently exists in around 200 prisons and labour camps on the island, added to ill-treatment, beatings, humiliation and inadequate nutrition to which prisoners are subjected5. Political dissidents, human rights defenders and common prisoners all found themselves in this situation without distinction, and the health of some prisoners was badly affected. This situation causes the death of a number of political prisoners every year in Cuba, due to ill-treatment, illnesses which were not treated and suicides6. The indifference with which prisoners’ protests or illnesses are treated, was demonstrated by the death, on February 23, 2010, of Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo,

      1. well, yeah, if you are quoting UN sponsored NGOs, and those with direct ties to the US state dept….fine. One should expect anti castro rhetoric. One might well ask who funds these sources…I see FIDH for one…….and you might want to read Arundhati Roy on the NGO business….for thats what it is. But yeah Humberto, at least we know who’s side you are on. Quoting Amnesty Int….another pro US state dept linked NGO. I mean jesus god….how obvious does all this need to be for you? Its become staggeringly apparent over the last decade that the NGO game is in tune with Western interests…meaning the US and meaning global military presence. Attempting to paint Cuba as a dictatorship is part of a master narrative in play for half a century. Funny nobody is creating protest art for those under US occupation, only those countries resisting the US. Chomksy, parenti, ed herman, and a dozen others have made clear how this works. Manufacturing consent. Its also…this particular case..alarming directed at comfortable western audiences.


          Human Rights Watch published an extensive report (LINK PROVIDED) on prison conditions in Cuba in 1999. In it it widely criticized most aspect of the Cuban judicial and prison system.

          In it criticized the lack of openness of the Cuban regime: “Cuba’s refusal to allow domestic or international human rights monitors to conduct regular visits to its prisons casts a veil of secrecy over its extensive prison system, reportedly one of the largest per capita in Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba refuses to disseminate even the most basic prison statistics, such as prison population figures. Cuba’s Penitentiary Establishment Directorate, however, reportedly maintains a centralized, computerized system that would readily make available detailed information about all detainees in Cuba’s prisons.”
          According to an article in the Miami Herald (LINK PROVIDED) in September 2003 Cuba’s jails may hold over 100,000 inmates. The same article puts the last visit of any international organization to Cuba’s prisons in 1989 (International Red Cross). The UN estimated the number of prisoners in Cuba between 100,000 and 200,000 in its 1995 UNHCR Special Rapporteur’s (LINK PROVIDED) report. A figure of 100,000 or more makes Cuba the country with the most prisoners per capita in the world.

          International organizations have reported that inadequate food and medical assistance, sexual abuse, limits and restrictions on visits, beatings,… in Cuba’s prisons. Amnesty International (LINK PROVIDED) has often started letter letter writing operations to support suffering prisoners of conscience.

          I refer to the extensive reports linked to at the top (HRW and Cubafacts) for a more detailed report on abuses in Cuba prisons.

          Social dangerousness or Pre-criminal danger to society is a legal charge under Cuban law which allows the authorities to detain people whom they think they are likely to commit crimes. The charge carries a penalty of up to four years in prison.[1] The Cuban government has been accused by Amnesty International of using the charge almost exclusively against critics of the government.


          Imprisoned for ‘Dangerousness’ in Cuba by Nik Steinberg
          Published in: The Washington Post-February 27, 2010

          “Under Cuba’s “dangerousness” law, authorities can imprison people who have not committed a crime on the suspicion that they might commit one in the future. “Dangerous” activities include handing out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, writing articles critical of the government and trying to start an independent union.”

    1. Performance Art and Modern Political Protest – by Bob Duggan
      “War is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means,” Carl von Clausewitz wrote in his famous book on battle strategy, On War. Many misquote that saying more pithily as “War is politics by other means,” but the idea that politics plays out on different battlefields remains true. Several recent performance pieces responding to political issues in America make a case for performance art as politics by other means, too. From Dread Scott’s performance On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide (shown above) tackling the long history and sad continuation of racism in America to Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight challenging America, especially American colleges, to address the issue of rape, performance artists are creating powerfully direct pieces that visualize and humanize sometimes faceless and forgotten issues.

  2. AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Cuba urged to revoke repressive laws: “Cuban laws impose unacceptable limits on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” said Kerrie Howard, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “Cuba desperately needs political and legal reform to bring the country in line with basic international human rights standards. “The long imprisonment of individuals solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights is not only a tragedy in itself but also constitutes a stumbling block to other reforms, including the beginning of the dialogue needed for the lifting of the US unilateral embargo against Cuba.”

    Several articles of the Cuban Constitution and Criminal Code are so vague that they are currently being interpreted in a way that infringes fundamental freedoms.

    Article 91 of Cuba’s Criminal Code provides for sentences of ten to 20 years or death for anyone “who in the interest of a foreign state, commits an act with the objective of damaging the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state”.

    According to article 72 “any person shall be deemed dangerous if he or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality” and article 75.1 states that any police officer can issue a warning for such “dangerousness”. The declaration of a dangerous pre-criminal state can be decided summarily. A warning may also be issued for associating with a “dangerous person”.

    Law 88 provides for seven to 15 years’ imprisonment for passing information to the United States that could be used to bolster anti-Cuban measures, such as the US economic blockade. The legislation also bans the ownership, distribution or reproduction of “subversive materials” from the US government, and proposes terms of imprisonment of up to five years for collaborating with radio, TV stations or publications deemed to be assisting US policy.

    Local non-governmental organizations have great difficulty in reporting on human rights violations due to restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression, association and movement. International independent human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are not allowed to visit the island.

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