Cuban artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for two years, has appealed to “people of conscience around the world to support our struggle to liberate ourselves and our country” in a letter published yesterday in the Miami Herald.
“Today every young Cuban is a political prisoner,” he continues. “A censored artist. An exile inside and outside Cuba. Even if you’re an accomplice of the system, you will inevitably be crushed like the others, because to be young is to be daring and reckless, eager to bring change to the world. It means fighting for love, dreams and utopia. But these qualities are considered crimes in Cuba, and that condemns us all to martyrdom.”
Otero Alcántara, 34, is detained in Guanajay, a maximum-security prison south of Havana. He was arrested in July 2021 amid a wave of anti-government protests in Cuba over the falling standard of life and sentenced in June 2022 to five years in prison. His sentencing was condemned by Amnesty International as “emblematic” of how Cuba’s current regime “uses the judicial system to criminalize critical voices.”
Otero Alcántara is a leader of the San Isidro movement, which was formed in 2018 to protest Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s crackdown on creative expression. Dozens of Cuban artists, activists, and journalists have reportedly been jailed, prosecuted, or forced into exile by Díaz-Canel’s administration. Working with other prosecuted artists, Otero Alcántara helped amplify the plight of protestors in the press worldwide. In 2021, he was named an “icon” by Time magazine in recognition of his activism.
According to the Human Rights Watch, the artist was arraigned on a laundry list of charges including public disorder, contempt, and, in Otero Alcántara’s case, “insulting national symbols” for his use of the Cuban flag in the performance piece Drapeau, in which he wore or carried the flag uninterrupted for a month.
In August 2022, his Twitter account shared anecdotes of the brutal conditions in Guanajay. He reportedly was confined in an isolation cell with little opportunity to see sunlight and given inadequate food and medical attention.
“Every day is the same,” Otero Alcántara writes in the Miami Herald. “Violence is constant. Only one’s body changes. Your hair falls out and your face ages prematurely from pain, frustration and sadness. Your friends leave the country. Lovers’ caresses are long gone. The soundscape here is always the same. All you hear is the murmur of death slowly approaching.”
He continues: “All we did was demand the right to choose our political future and to speak our mind.”