Tania the (Other) Guerrilla
The arrest of a dissident artist indicates that Cuba is no closer to yielding its centralized power, despite reforms to the embargo.
The parents of performance artist Tania Bruguera were revolutionaries, so they chose to name their daughter after the German woman known to Cubans as “Tania the Guerrilla” (her real name was Tamara Bunke), who died in Bolivia fighting alongside Che Guevara’s troops.
- Is it worth-while to focus on the last images and letters coming from the inside of the last living utopia on Earth? Is Cuba by now a contemporary country or just another old-fashioned delusion in the middle of Nowhere-America? A Cold-War Northtalgia maybe? Can we expect a young Rewwwolution.cu within that Ancien Régime still known as The Revolution? I would like to provoke more questions than answers.
- Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was born in Havana City and still resides and resists there, working as a free-lance writer, photographer and blogger. He is the author of Boring Home (2009) and is the editor of the independent opinion and literary e-zine Voces.
At the close of 2014, Tania Bruguera brought the guerrilla spirit almost all the way to the heart of the Plaza de la Revolución.
On the heels of the success of her provocative work “Tatlin’s Whisper #6,” which was shown in a Havana art gallery, Tania Bruguera repeated her experiment of handing a microphone to the people for a minute at a time, in order to give Cuban citizens the chance to regain their voice in the very place where Fidel Castro’s monologue had held them hostage and turned individuals into one mute mass.
In December 2014 Tania, a Cuban citizen who splits her time between Havana and New York, wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama, General Raúl Castro and Pope Francis on the subject of the imminent restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. She then flew to Cuba and, within a few hours, the hashtag #YoTambienExijo (meaning “I Have Demands Too”) was trending on social networks, with demands pouring in from countless Cubans across the planet.
Once in Havana, Tania’s plan was for this choir of voices to culminate at the feet of the statue of José Martí, the apostle of Cuban independence. But on December 30, State Security suddenly arrested her. Tania Bruguera was taken into custody not once, but three times. Each time, there were no charges filed against her, and she did not receive a phone call or access to an attorney. As a result, Tania’s case was silenced: she had no opportunity to speak with the international media, and local reporters never cover politically controversial events. Throughout the last days of 2014, dozens of other activists were also arrested for attempting to join in Tania’s experiment, and its aesthetics progressed from public performance to civil resistance.
Though dozens of curious Cubans managed to get to the Plaza de la Revolución to see what would happen, the authorities called off the performance. At the time I am writing this column, Tania Bruguera is still being interrogated regularly by the counterintelligence services. As Tania herself has told me in telephone conversations, they have confiscated her documents and computers and canceled her passport, meaning that she can no longer leave Cuba. To top it all off, the authorities have threatened her with forced deportation to the United States, in spite of the fact that she is a Cuban citizen. And now they are telling her that she will face prosecution for inciting “public disorder.”
This case of censorship and sheer government arrogance against an artist who elsewhere would barely have received a fine (and would have won the applause of intellectuals) has been denounced worldwide. In New York and Miami, parallel performances took place to support Tania Bruguera. I had the privilege of organizing the Miami performance at the end of 2014. A Facebook group called Un Día Para Cuba (One Day for Cuba) has been set up to publish minute-long videos in which Cuban people make their demands heard. A total of 1440 videos will ultimately be produced, 24 hours of material to coincide with the 24 hours in a day. The demands made in these videos are far more authentic than the secret agendas being negotiated between the White House, the Plaza de la Revolución, and the Vatican, which will never consult with Cubans at home or in exile.
Since the beginning of 2015, Tania Bruguera has renounced her membership in the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), as the organization has offered her no support. She has also announced that she will sue the Cuban government for violating her rights as a practitioner of what she terms arte de conducta, or behavior-art.
While Barack Obama is attempting to make a gesture of goodwill towards the Cuban regime, there is not the least sign of greater openness on the island. Cuba’s guerrilla spirit is purely an export commodity, and it would seem that the Castros are not prepared to yield an iota of the centralized control that is paralyzing Cuban society. For that, performers and political opponents will have to wait to see the end of at least two presidential funerals, according to the Castro clan’s biopolitics. Tania Bruguera tested the regime’s limits, and as a result she is paying the high price of harassment and ostracism, with the gravest consequences perhaps yet to be seen.
Your show of solidarity for independent Cuban art can help us. Even if you are not from Cuba, we invite you to add your demand to the #YoTambienExijo Twitter campaign and the Un Día Para Cuba Facebook page. Liberty knows no limits, and especially not those put in place by a fossilized ideology.