One of Cuba’s most daring and popular 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.
The artist, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, 33, has been named a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, which called for his release in a call echoed on social media.
“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, ”said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International director of Amnesty International on Friday. “It is time for the Cuban authorities to recognize that they cannot silence all independent voices in the country.”
Otero Alcántara, a performance artist, is the leader of the San Isidro movement, a group of artists, writers and intellectuals who campaigned for freedom of expression in the communist country. He was advocating free speech and protesting state harassment when health officials took him away on May 2. The government questioned the authenticity of the hunger strike and surrounded Otero Alcántara’s home with police, cutting off the internet in the area, according to reports.
After he was taken to hospital, health officials said they found no signs of malnutrition and he was stable. Three weeks later, friends and supporters are wondering why he is still hospitalized without communication, sparking speculation about his condition on social media.
Before the hunger strike, Otero Alcántara was arrested and part of his art was destroyed and seized after he protested against the Communist Party Congress by sitting on an attic. He went on hunger strike to demand the return of his works, 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 he had no intention of backing down.
The US government has expressed concern for the well-being of Otero Alcántara, urging in a tweet that he be treated with “dignity” and “respect”.
Cuban authorities claim that the US government funds and orders Otero Alcántara and the San Isidro movement to create subversion. The group has denied the allegations and says its members 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 who live in the United States and Spain. The song, whose title is a version of the government’s slogan “socialism or death”, touches on many topics, including the desire for change and greater freedom, widespread shortages and migration. The song has become popular with many Cubans on the island and in Miami, where it can be heard on the radio.
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