The Cuban artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who is being held in jail in Cuba, has appealed “to people of conscience around the world to support our struggle to liberate ourselves and our country” in an article published in the Miami Herald newspaper.
“Today every young Cuban is a political prisoner. 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,” he writes.
Alcántara is detained in Guanajay, a maximum-security penitentiary southwest of Havana. The publication of his comment piece marks two years since he was arrested when anti-government protests swept the country. “I am an artist and a political prisoner in Cuba. I was arrested on July 11, 2021, on my way to a protest in which thousands of my compatriots rose up across the island to demand freedom.”
Alcántara was sentenced on 24 June last year. “Last year, I was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of contempt and insult to national symbols, because I used the Cuban flag in a performance in August 2019. This is how the Cuban government views my art,” he writes.
As one of the founders of the San Isidro movement, Alcántara helped bring injustices against artists by the Cuban government to the global stage. US officials who have called for Alcántara’s release include Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the former US ambassador to Peru, Brian A. Nichols. In 2021, Alcántara was named an “icon” by Time magazine.
Last year, his colleague, the US-based fellow artist and activist Coco Fusco told The Art Newspaper that his health was deteriorating in prison. “I’ve lost weight because of the scarcity of food and poor quality of meals. I’m often afraid to eat because the food looks rotten,” Alcántara writes. “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.”
At the time of writing, the Cuban embassy in London had not responded to a request for comment.