Cuba: Police Release, Then Immediately Re-Arrest, Artist Hunger Strike Leader

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s performance The Flag Belongs to Everyone (image courtesy of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara)
image courtesy of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

Communist Party police in Cuba arrested Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the head of the San Isidro Movement of pro-democracy artists, on Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after freeing him from a prior detention.

Otero was in the middle of an interview with the independent Cuban outlet 14 y medio when he was arrested. His detention was filmed on a mobile phone.

Wednesday was Otero’s 33rd birthday.

At press time, authorities reportedly freed Otero into his grandmother’s home and are not allowing him to leave. Authorities are also attempting to curb his communication with the outside world, dissidents denounced.

The San Isidro Movement led a hunger strike in November that, at its peak, featured 15 artists. Otero and fellow artist, rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo, engaged in a hunger and thirst strike for over a week.

The hunger strikes triggered an unprecedented protest of artists that attracted a crowd of 300 people in front of Havana’s Ministry of Culture headquarters. Party officials claimed to be open to “dialogue” with the crowd but have so far not conceded to any of its demands, including greater freedoms for artists and the release of a San Isidro Movement member, Denis Solís, currently serving eight months in prison for not allowing a police officer to enter his home without a warrant. Video that Solís filmed of the officer, legal experts have denounced, proves the officer violated Cuban law.

Police forced Otero into a Havana hospital after storming his home, where the San Isidro hunger strikers were staying, on Thursday night. Colleagues told independent journalists that he was not facing any health risks and had no reason to be kept as a patient.

The Castro regime implemented a new law against art, known as “Decree 349,” in 2018. The law makes it illegal for anyone to make anything that can be interpreted as art — songs, written works, films, or any form of media — without first receiving a permit from the Ministry of Culture that confirms the art will not be “counter-revolutionary.” The law dealt a particular blow to Cuban rappers, who had developed an extensive library of music uploaded to the internet with ease despite their impoverished status and the pro-democracy content in their lyrics.

The law triggered widespread outrage in the artistic community. The San Isidro Movement, named after the poor Havana neighborhood, is arguably the most organized response to the decree, a group of artists, academics, and other intellectuals working to liberate Cuba from communism.

The Spanish newspaper Diario de Cuba reported on Wednesday that Otero and partner Claudia Genlui Hidalgo were arrested on Wednesday briefing for unclear reasons. Upon their “release,” police placed Otero in his grandmother’s home and surrounded the building, making it impossible for him to leave.

Journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez, who has covered the San Isidro hunger strikes closely, posted on Facebook that Otero had not been free from the hospital detention for more than 24 hours when police arrived on Wednesday.

“Just yesterday they had freed him and the only thing he has done since then is to sleep,” Álvarez wrote. “Seems like he committed some new crime in his sleep. Today is his birthday. The unjustified harassment continues.”

Prior to his second arrest, Otero had denounced the communist regime to Diario de Cuba directly, stating that he was “literally in prison in the hospital.”

“I realized they wanted to keep me there a long time, that was why I started eating,” he explained. Otero had given up his hunger strike while in the hospital. “I felt that they were scared that something would happen to me … I felt weird, it was like a performance.”

Cuban state media, which has denounced Otero as a criminal, claimed that he had voluntarily checked himself into the hospital, which he denied.

Following the Wednesday detention, Genlui told the independent outlet Cubanet that police did not give any explanation for the couple’s detention.

“I don’t understand it, in fact, it violates one of the primary demands that resulted in an agreement with the Ministry of Culture,” Genlui said.

The Ministry of Culture claimed to have agreed to series of demands from the artistic community on Saturday after the 300-strong protest in front of its offices passed from Friday into Saturday. In response to the protest, officials allowed 30 members of the crowd into the building for “dialogue” that lasted up to five hours, according to some of the reports.

One of the core demands of the artist movement is to cease the harassment of dissident or “counter-revolutionary” artists. Yet also arrested on Wednesday along with Otero was Tania Bruguera, one of the 30 who negotiated the alleged deal. Like Otero, she was released hours later. Authorities reportedly took Bruguera into custody to question her about alleged ties to the United States.

Bruguera rose to international prominence in 2014 after being arrested for placing a microphone in Havana’s Revolution Square and encouraging people to say whatever they want.

Also arrested on Wednesday was San Isidro spokesman Michel Matos, released on Wednesday night and, again, not given any known reason for his detention.

Matos spoke to Breitbart News last week, explaining the urgency of the Cuban artistic movement.

“The[y] know absolutely everything about your life, listen in to your communications, besiege you, leave you trapped in your home, shuts [sic] off your electricity, cut off your phone,” Matos said of Cuban state police, “[and] conduct a series of blackmail operations on your personal life because they have a certain information dominance over that.”

“We have not received any solidarity from Hollywood; we have received some solidarity from some Latin American and European artists,” Matos noted. “Would it help? Definitely yes.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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