WHY IS ONE OF CUBA’S MOST REBELLIOUS ARTISTS STILL ISOLATED IN A GOVERNMENT HOSPITAL?

Artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was on day eight of a hunger strike protesting what he said was a campaign of Cuban government harassment against him when,before sunrise, health officials hauled him into a government hospital.His fellow dissidents state Otero Alcántara was shot for treatment against his will and they haven’t heard from him,other than through videos released by Cuba’s social media.

Cuban health officials said, if he was confessed, Otero Alcántara didn’t appear to have been deprived of water or food and on Tuesday said he’s eating and drinking, raising the question of why he remains hospitalized and incommunicado.In one of the videos that premiered, Otero Alcántara seems in great health, joking with a hospital secretary whilst affirming”that I am likely to keep demanding my rights as an artist.”Cuban health officials state Otero Alcántara is undergoing testing and has been treated voluntarily.While the Cuban government grapples with the economic consequences of the coronavirus and tougher US sanctions, Otero Alcántara and his little set of tech-savvy”artivists” are a source of frustration for officials around the communist-run island.In tweets and videos uploaded into social media, Otero Alcántara and other members of the San Isidro Movement have documented their effort in real time against official censorship and the Cuban police and safety officials that frequently shadow their every movement.”We are linked,” is a regular refrain and hashtag within his messages, a reference to the recent arrival of mobile internetto the nation, which has enabled many Cubans to circumvent social press and communicate directly with rest of the planet and their fellow Cubans.

Some Cuban officials assert the self-taught Otero Alcántara is not actually an artist, which speaks to his assertion that government bureaucrats shouldn’t decide what qualifies as art on the island.At times Otero Alcántara has threatened to push a wedge between the government and Cuban artists, that in recent years have enjoyed a unique status that enabled them to criticize the government, albeit indirectly, and legally make hard currency by selling their work to tourists and consumers abroad.In November, police detained Otero Alcántara and fans during a hunger strike, alleging they had violated health constraints put in place to block the spread of the pandemic.Within hours, several hundred unsigned artists and pupils staged a rare sit-in protest outside the Cuban Ministry of Culture and some of the island’s best known cultural figures voiced their support for Otero Alcántara and increased freedom of expression.

Cuban officials immediately released Otero Alcántara and maintained he was a part of a US”soft coup” against the island.”The series is very like those staged on other occasions by other mercenary bands and puppets in the support of the U.S. government,” a post mentioned in the Cuban communist party newspaper Granma roughly Otero Alcántara days after the protest. “The new show, orchestrated from Washington and Miami, is a part of strategies for subversion against Cuba.”But Otero Alcántara, an Afro-Cuban millennial who lives in a downtrodden area of Old Havana that tourists rarely venture into, does not fit the traditional picture of an anti-Castro militant fighting to return the island to the times prior to the revolution. And he’s particularly adept at leveraging the obstacles Cuban officials throw athim as a form of performance art that creates more attention for his movement.While his activism, so far, does not appear to be an existential threat to the Cuban government, it’s proved unnerving to officials.Otero Alcántara appeared in a music video for the song”Patria y Vida” or”Fatherland and Life,” a drama on the revolutionary motto”Fatherland or Death,” that is the way Fidel Castro ended his speeches. The video for the song, which has been an anthem for anti-government immunity, has obtained five million viewpoints on YouTube.In April, when police surrounded his home, he put in an exhibition at which he sat controlled with a garotte around his throat.Following he accused State Security agents of seizing his art, Otero Alcántara demanded $500,000 in settlement and said he was, again, going on a hunger strike.”I shall fight to the last breath for my artistic freedom,” he wrote in a widely seen message. “In my body dies, I expect it’s going to be a spark for the liberty of Cuba.”When Otero Alcántara was taken to the hospital in May, physicians released a statement saying the activist”showed no signs of adultery,” attempting to cast doubt on his hunger strike, but said he’d remain”under monitoring.” But save one video where he briefly speaks, he has not been heard from and his fans say they have been obstructed by police from watching him in person.

As Cuban officials try to adapt into Otero Alcántara’s new brand of activism, the government runs the risk of threatening potentially enhanced relations with the Biden administration, which so much is moving gradually on engaging with the island.”Like most Cubans, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” the US Embassy in Havana submitted on Twitter. “We’ve seen reports that he’s in hospital and his state is steady. We urge the police to protect his well-being in this difficult moment.”Some Cuban artists assert that if greater liberty of expression were permitted, the strain with the state and artists would facilitate.”These small scandals will end the day that they legalize protests,” famed singer Silvio Rodriguez, a long-time supporter of the Cuban revolution, wrote on his website. “Licensed protests. Democratic socialism. Along with the police protecting those who exercise their rights,” he continued.But top Cuban officials warn a harsher crackdown could be on the horizon.”To the mercenary lumpen who make money from everybody’s fate, to those who ask for an invasion, to those who continuously offend with deeds and words,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in a televised address in April while taking the powerful post of head of the Cuban communist party,”understand that the patience of these people has limitations.”

 

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