Cuba defends controversial arts decree but seeks consensus on norms

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s Communist government defended on Friday a controversial new decree tightening control on the cultural sector but said it would seek artists’ backing for how it will be implemented, a move those who had protested against the decree hailed as a victory.

Culture Minister Alpidio Alonso Grau said during a roundtable discussion broadcast on state TV that the government, which has promoted local artists since Cuba’s 1959 revolution, was targeting vulgar, offensive and mediocre content with the legislation.

Decree 349, which was published in July and theoretically came into force on Friday, gives government inspectors the right to shut down exhibits and performances deemed to violate Cuba’s revolutionary values and to confiscate artists’ belongings.

Alonso Grau said the authorities would meet with artists nationwide over the coming days to seek their consensus on how enforcement of the decree would work in practice.

Except in the most extreme cases, the minister said, the decision to shut down a cultural event could only be made by a group of officials, and not a single inspector.

“The enemies of the revolution have tried to present the decree as an instrument for censorship and to ignore what cultural policy signifies,” he said on a show that also featured well-known local artists who voiced support for the decree.

When decree 349 was first announced, only a small group of artists working outside state institutions and most affected by the legislation spoken out against it. Such artists had gained greater autonomy in the wake of Cuba’s market reforms by exhibiting or performing in newly opened private venues.

But the decree requires that artists be registered with the state to “provide services” in any space open to the public, including private ones, updating a previous law that spoke only of state-run spaces.

Joining the criticism of decree 349 in recent days were household names such as folk singer Silvio Rodriguez, a staunch supporter of Cuba’s revolution.

Performance artist Tania Bruguera, who currently has a show at London’s Tate Modern, joined a handful of artists who sought to protest outside the culture ministry in Havana this week and were briefly detained.

Some saw the vow to consult artists on how the decree will be enacted as a sign that the government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who took office from Raul Castro in April, is more open to popular feedback.

Bruguera, who has been detained before for protesting against Cuba’s government, said they were still calling for the derogation of the decree, but that Friday’s news was already a huge advance.

“Everyone has made their concerns heard from their own field, which I think is a democratic act like we have not seen for years in Cuba,” Bruguera told Reuters.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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