Cuban dissident artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara forcibly taken to hospital by security services eight days into a hunger strike

Otero Alcántara’s hunger strike and calls for free speech and artistic freedom in Cuba has drawn international attention

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara Facebook

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the Cuban artist and leader of the San Isidro Movement, was forcibly taken early Sunday morning from his home to Havana’s General Calixto Garcia university hospital emergency unit by security forces, ending an eight-day hunger strike in protest of the government’s clampdown on free speech and artist’s rights.

Otero Alcántara’s hunger strike began last month after security services allegedly arrested the artist without a warrant, seized a number of his works and then placed him under house arrest. For months, Otero Alcántara and other members of the San Isidro Movement have been under constant police surveillance, with some being barred from receiving visitors and arrested when they leave their homes.

Havana's public health department said Sunday on Twitter that Otero Alcántara was “referred” to a hospital for “self-imposed food deprivation” and arrived with “no signs of malnutrition” despite more than seven days without food or liquids. Authorities say he is in stable condition and being attended to by doctors. However, fellow San Isidro members have reason to doubt the government is being entirely candid.

San Isidro and the related artist activist group 27N members tell The Art Newspaper that Otero Alcántara has not been allowed visitors since he was admitted to Calixto Garcia, and they have heard from a source inside the hospital that his care is being overseen by the police and state security officials. The San Isidro Movement demanded to see proof of life, with some speculating that a video of Otero Alcántara entering a hospital released by the government was shot last November after members of San Isidro were arrested during a mass hunger strike.

Otero Alcántara’s situation has drawn international attention, with the US, the European Union and the Organisation of American States taking notice. Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary for the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said on Saturday the US is “extremely concerned” about Otero Alcántara’s welfare and urged the Cuban government to protect his “life and health”. Meanwhile, the Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, shot back at the US via Twitter on Monday for condemning “more than 11 million Cuban men and women to hunger and scarcity”.