One of Cuba’s most popular and daring dissident artists stayed in a hospital for more than three weeks, after being taken there by health officials on the seventh day of his hunger strike and thirst.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, 33, was named a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, which called for his release, which is also echoed by others on social networks.
“Luis Manuel should not spend another day in state custody. He was detained solely because of his conscious beliefs and must be released immediately and unconditionally, ”Erika Guevara-Rosas, director of the Americas at Amnesty International, said in a press release on Friday. “It is time for the Cuban authorities to recognize that they cannot silence all independent voices in the country.”
The performance artist was protesting free speech and state harassment when health officials took him away on May 2. Most people do not survive more than nine days without food or fluids.
The US government has expressed concern for Otero Alcantará’s well-being, urging in a tweet that he be treated with “dignity” and “respect.”
During the hunger strike, the government questioned its authenticity and surrounded his home with police, cutting off the internet in the area, according to reports.
After Otero Alcántara was taken to hospital, health officials said they found no signs of malnutrition and said he was in stable condition. But three weeks later, friends and supporters are wondering why he is still hospitalized without communication, prompting speculation on social media about his condition.
Otero Alcántra is the leader of the San Isidro movement, a group of artists, writers and intellectuals, which campaigned for freedom of expression in the communist country.
Before the hunger strike, Otero Alcántara was arrested and some of his art destroyed and seized, after protesting against the Communist Party Congress by sitting on an attic. The artist went on hunger strike to demand the return of his artwork, compensation for the destroyed pieces, freedom of expression and an end to police harassment.
Two days before his transport to hospital, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Havana visited Otero Alcántara and said the artist had no intention of backing down.
Cuban authorities claim that Otero Alcántara and the San Isidro movement are funded and led by the US government to create subversion on the island. The group denied the allegations and said they are arbitrarily detained and often prevented from leaving their homes by state security.
In November, authorities interrupted a hunger strike by members of the group, triggering a rare demonstration with hundreds of artists and activists outside the culture ministry. Those who protested formed another group called 27N.
The San Isidro movement has made connections with people in a way other movements have not experienced at a time when the island is experiencing a severe shortage of food and medicine.
The group’s rappers collaborated on a song called “Patria y Vida” or Homeland and Life, with popular Cuban artists residing in the United States and Spain. The title is a variation of the government’s slogan “Socialism or Death” and addresses many topics, including the desire for change, greater freedom, widespread shortages and migration. The song has become popular with many Cubans on the island and in Miami where the song can be heard on local radio stations.
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