Cuban Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara Said to Be Held in Isolation

Dissident Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a leader of the activist San Isidro Movement (MSI), is reportedly being detained in an isolation cell at Guanajay, a maximum-security prison roughly thirty-five miles southwest of Havana, “without the possibility of seeing the sun.” According to an August 16 post on Otero Alcántara’s Twitter account, he is suffering cramps in his hands and feet, and his health is declining. The same account revealed on August 5 that he had been attacked by a fellow prisoner; the digital news outlet Cibercuba reported that Otero Alcántara had been in an isolation cell earlier this summer as punishment for a hunger strike he was staging to protest his treatment. After giving up the effort owing to poor health, he was integrated into the general population; he was moved back into isolation following the attack. Otero Alcántara has additionally been ill with dengue fever, as have many other prisoners there.

The artist has been in custody at Guanajay since July 2021, when was detained by authorities while on his way to one of the historic demonstrations that roiled Havana last summer. He was illegally detained for nearly a year without a hearing before being sentenced to five years in prison following a series of closed-door trials in Havana this past June. Cuban law states that a person cannot be held for more than six months without receiving a trial: Guanajay remained incarcerated for seven months before being issued a court date.

Named one of Time’s Most Influential People of 2021 the same month he was arrested, Otero Alcántara had already been forcibly hospitalized in Havana in May 2021, more than a week after a hunger strike, which he reportedly undertook on April 26 to protest the government’s seizure or destruction of several of his artworks that spring. His July 2021 arrest, which drew international condemnation, was the latest in a series of illegal detentions he has endured since Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel rose to power in 2018. Under Díaz-Canel’s regime, artists and others protesting government censorship have been for years subject to state harassment.


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