The artist Tania Bruguera and the biochemist Oscar Casanella were stopped and detained by Cuban authorities yesterday as they were driving out of Havana to deliver aid to victims of Hurricane Matthew in the east of the country. According to Diario de Cuba, Bruguera and Casanella were pulled over due to an alleged technical or administrative problem with the van they had rented, which was laden with donated mattresses and rice destined for citizens of Baracoa, a city that was pummeled by Matthew in October.
According to a Facebook post by the Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt (INSTAR), a Havana-based art and activism organization co-founded by Bruguera, she and Casanella were stopped around 1pm on January 12 and taken to a police station in the Cotorro section of Havana. According to a subsequent INSTAR post and information provided to Hyperallergic by the artist’s sister, Deborah Bruguera, Casanella was allegedly physically attacked during his detention, and Bruguera was questioned for six hours by four counterintelligence officers and Lieutenant Colonel Kenia, who has monitored the artist’s activities in the past. The point of the questioning and the pretext for the pair’s detention remain unknown, but Bruguera will not be permitted to deliver the donated goods to hurricane victims in Baracoa. She plans to travel back to Boston to teach her class at Harvard University today, assuming Cuban authorities allow her to leave the country.
“She was told that she will never again be an artist in Cuba,” Deborah Bruguera told Hyperallergic. “I think this was ‘just’ a warning to let her know that the next time she enters Cuba and wants to perform a humanitarian or artistic action, she will have all the governmental weapons pointed against her.” She added that the man who rented the van to Bruguera and Casanella has been harassed by police and his vehicle has been confiscated.
This is hardly Bruguera’s first run-in with Cuban authorities, as her work as both an artist and an activist continually tests the limits of what the country’s authoritarian regime will permit. She has been either arrested or detained several times over the last two years, usually in connection with public performances, or after attending protests. Yesterday’s detention, seemingly intended to impede an act of humanitarian aid, suggests an escalation of Cuban authorities’ crackdown on artists and activists.