Freshly Out of Jail, Artist Tania Bruguera Files a Defamation Lawsuit Against Cuba

The artist hopes her action inspires other artists fearful of the government.

Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera. Photo: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

Artist Tania Bruguera has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Cuban government, an action she claims is the first of its kind.

Bruguera, who has been detained and imprisoned by the Cuban government on several occasions, most recently earlier this month, is currently campaigning alongside fellow artists to protest Decree 349, a proposed law that would curtail freedom of expression in the country.

“Tired of suffering defamations in state media publications such as Gramma newspaper and Razones de Cuba, as well as official websites from the Ministry of Culture such as La Jiribilla, I have decided to legally act against parties who have damaged myself and my family, psychologically, socially, and professionally,” Bruguera said in a statement emailed to artnet News.

The artist says campaigns of defamation are a tactic increasingly employed by authoritarian regimes to intimidate high-profile figures, including artists and journalists. This is often in addition to legal action and imprisonment.

Bruguera said that if her action is, as she has been told by her lawyers, the first action of its kind, “then I hope it is the first of many: I hope that it serves in the future when a person is uncomfortable for saying and doing what they believe in for fear the government may defame them publicly.”

The artist hopes her action serves to inspire confidence in other artists as well. She has faced constant surveillance by the authorities and menacing phone calls since her release from jail, but chooses to remain in the country at a time she deems “crucial” for freedom of expression. Last week, she canceled plans to attend the Kochi Muziris Biennale, which opened on December 12 in Kerala. She was due to give a performance and lecture there, according to Indian media reports.

Bruguera was detained for three days alongside around a dozen other Cuban artists and activists for organizing a sit-in protest against new regulations that would limit artistic expression in the country. Amid widespread backlash against the law, known as Decree 349, the government rolled back some of its most rigid and repressive provisions just before it was due to go into effect on December 7. But the revised rules remain restrictive: under the new terms, government inspectors can shut down cultural events only in extreme cases of obscenity, racism, or sexism (and the definition of “extreme” remains unclear).

Bruguera said she is not asking for economic compensation in her lawsuit, but instead “a public retraction of such defamation in the same newspapers where they originally appeared, and in the case of online sites, a note on the original articles” correcting the content. The defendants have 30 days to respond to her lawsuit.

Bruguera states: “A nation doesn’t exist unless the rights of its citizens are respected.”


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