In a statement shared with The Art Newspaper by Amnesty International, the Cuban artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who is being held in jail in Cuba, says: “We must continue to struggle from every corner of this world against evil, lies and injustice.”
Alcántara is detained in Guanajay, a maximum-security penitentiary southwest of Havana. The publication of his latest account while incarcerated marks two and a half years since he was arrested when anti-government protests swept the country (he was sentenced to five years on 24 June 2022). In the last few years, he has become a symbol for artists and intellectuals who oppose the Cuban government’s clampdown on artistic freedom.
His statement to Amnesty continues: “Thank you for reading me and for being there for us who suffer. I tell myself this every day: I fight because I grew up listening to the music of Teresita Fernandez, Silvio, Pablo, the New Song movement, Los Aldeanos, James Brown with Pavarotti, and the beautiful songs of Bola de Nieve, and all that beauty that still moves me today.
“I am the son of two beings who taught me not to lose my fighting spirit. Those beings are not physically present, but on their journey, they enlighten me every day. I feel privileged because during the horrible nights of prison, sadness, and frustration, in the presence of so much injustice, I hold on to my brushes and colours, convincing myself that, in the face of magic, love, beauty and truth, darkness will not be eternal.
“Nothing takes away my drive because as a child I fell in love with the eternal. So, I will not leave my work, our work, unfinished. I fight because when I close my eyes, in deep sleep, my soul goes out to walk with my loved ones. Mind you, during two years of prison, I have never had a nightmare. Nothing has undermined my capacity to create.”
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.
His statement ends: “I struggle in this horrible place, which contrasts starkly with my reality in freedom, a reality full of beautiful sunrises and love and friendships. As a result, the good experiences of love have assumed another dimension in my consciousness.
“I continue to struggle because I never learned anything practical like mathematics or mechanics. I only know how to dream. And thanks to this, the day I was born and the day I will die will be holidays. And thanks to this many people love me. I learned that in the face of infinity we are nothing. Only love and memory make us eternal. I still have the taste of the last kiss of that 11th day. My family is waiting for me.
“I fight because they cannot take away the memories of drunken revery in Havana. They will not erase the memory of millions of orgasms, the births of my children, or the embrace of my friends when my parents died. They cannot take away my uncle's advice. I insist on the struggle because my neighbours in San Isidro send me packages of sausages to feed me here in prison even though they endure extreme food shortages. And mind you, I have not forgotten the image of my friend Lupe, my neighbour in the San Isidro area, sharing her chicken in equal parts with her little Pekingese dog. Because of all this I will never stop believing in you, in me, in us and in love.
“I wrote a poem that goes like this:
Knowing you are present gives me encouragement.
Injustice becomes less because you wait for me.
Hope abandoned me. Only you are left for me.
I turned the Bible into smoke that burns my lungs.
The paths of Elegua do not reach me.
You, you are tangible like my dreams.
You have no name or picture.
Or you have many names and images.
Note, I do not enslave you to remember me.
You have the gift of forgetfulness.
If, in that night of partying,
the taste of a drink brings back your memory,
I am still alive.”
The Cuban Embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment.