CubaBrief: Cuban dissident beaten to death by Castro’s revolutionary police ten years ago while another is held hostage today. A call to action

Revolutionary police and state security in Cuba operate with impunity, and victims of repression have no recourse to independent oversight or an independent judiciary in the island because absolute power is centralized in the dictatorship. This raises concerns now for the life of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. It is also the reason why people of conscience will be protesting at the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC on May 6, 2021 starting at 4:00pm. Hyperallergic has correctly characterized that Luis Manuel Otero was “forcibly hospitalized” by the regime’s police, and Havana Times used the terms “kidnapped and surrounded in a hospital” with regards to the situation under which the Cuban artist and dissident currently finds himself.

“He didn’t ask to be taken from his house, he didn’t ask to receive medical attention from the Cuban public health system. This is a kidnapping,” Camila Remón, one of five members of SIM based in Miami, told Hyperallergic in an interview. “His demands were clear: for his art to be returned, for the police siege of his home to end, and for the government to respect freedom of creation.”

Announcement circulating over social media

Announcement circulating over social media

The Center for a Free Cuba outlined the danger Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara now faces in Monday’s CubaBrief, and highlighted the cases of Laura Pollán Toledo (2011) and Sergio Díaz Larrastegui (2012). Today, this CubaBrief highlights another case that remains unresolved.

Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia beaten to death by police on May 5, 2011 in Cuba.

Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia beaten to death by police on May 5, 2011 in Cuba.

Ten years ago the headlines circled the world in English and in Spanish covered by Reuters, the BBC, CNN, AP, EFE that a Cuban dissident and former political prisoner, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (age 46) had been beaten and arrested by Cuban regime police on Thursday, May 5, 2011 while protesting the dictatorship and died early on Sunday May 8, 2011.

The beating had been so bad that he required hospitalization. He was buried Sunday, on Mother’s Day. At the funeral Cuban pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso spoke about the life of the Cuban activist and the circumstances surrounding his death.

Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (age 46) and two children who lost their dad.

Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (age 46) and two children who lost their dad.

Juan Wilfredo Soto left behind two children and their mom. He was a member of the Opposition Central Coalition and was known as “The Student.” He was a former political prisoner who had served 12 years in prison. His mother, who suffers from a bad hip, buried her son on Mother’s Day. Pictures of Juan Wilfredo Soto’s family members provided by Yoani Sanchez through twitter.

No one ever had to answer for this extrajudicial killing.

Now a hostage video emerges from Cuba, in response to demands of proof of life, and private medical information on Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara made public with a militarized presence around the hospital. There is great reason to be concerned for Luis Manuel’s safety. Friends and fellow activists that have tried to see him remain arbitrarily detained. Names that we know of are: Inti Soto, Thais Mailen Franco, Esteban Rodríguez, Mary Karla Ares, Nancy Vera, Yuisan Cancio Vera, Luis Ángel, Felix Modesto and Leonardo Romero, and others are surrounded by regime agents and unable to leave their homes.

This is why Patmos, Center for a Free Cuba, and others are organizing a nonviolent protest at the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC located on 2630 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 on May 6, 2021 at 4:00pm to observe the tenth anniversary of the beating death of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, and demand justice for him and others like him, while calling on the Cuban government to free Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and meet his three demands.


Havana Times, May 4, 2021

Luis Manuel Otero, Kidnapped and Surrounded in a Hospital

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara – Photo: Evelyn Sosa

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara – Photo: Evelyn Sosa

HAVANA TIMES – In the early morning of May 2, after having cut off cell phones in the area, State Security and medical personnel forcibly entered the home of Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero in the San Isidro neighborhood of Old Havana

The artist, who had been on a hunger and thirst strike for a week, was transferred to the Calixto García hospital where they have not allowed the arrival of his friends. According to the online newspaper 14ymedio, the place is under strict surveillance, both inside and in the surrounding streets.

According to the authorities, Luis Manuel was subjected to different laboratory tests. Meanwhile, the Cuban government continues its discrediting campaign on State media against all who dissent and especially against Otero. The government wants to pretend that Luis Manuel has not been on a hunger strike, as they hold him by force.

Some relatives and hospital workers have assured that he is being hydrated in a therapy room. However, there are many questions in the air.

If the patient is healthy, why has he been kept in the hospital for more than 48 hours? Why not send him to his house and film him in his usual activities so that the whole world can see if he was lying? Why is there this police deployment around the hospital? Why did they delay in letting the family be around him? Why don’t they let him talk to his friends and members of the San Isidro Movement on the phone?

Why was Luis Manuel on a hunger and thirst strike?

Otero demands that the authorities return his art works that State Security stole from him when they violently broke into his house, prior to his hunger strike. He also demands that they lift the police siege that he has had on him for months, treating him worse than a murderer.

Luis Manuel has been detained, interrogated, and threatened more than a dozen times. Apparently, his art demanding freedom and an end to repressive laws against artists and others who differ from government policies, has the authorities more concerned than the severe shortages of food and basic medicines suffered by the vast majority of the Cuban people.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

https://havanatimes.org/news/luis-manuel-otero-kidnapped-and-surrounded-in-a-hospital/

Hyperallergic, May 1, 2021

News

Cuban Artist Forcibly Hospitalized During Hunger Strike

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been without food or fluids for seven days after Cuban police raided his home and took several artworks.

by Valentina Di Liscia May 3, 2021

Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara of the San Isidro Movement during a hunger strike in November 2020 at the group's headquarters. (photo by and courtesy of Katherine Bisquet)

Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara of the San Isidro Movement during a hunger strike in November 2020 at the group’s headquarters. (photo by and courtesy of Katherine Bisquet)

Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been on a hunger and thirst strike for seven days, was forcibly hospitalized by state police in the capital city of Havana on Sunday morning, activists told Hyperallergic. Alcántara, a leader of the dissident San Isidro Movement (SIM), is an outspoken advocate for creative freedom on the island. He began his strike after security forces raided his house and studio in late April, allegedly confiscating several artworks and detaining the artist.

“He didn’t ask to be taken from his house, he didn’t ask to receive medical attention from the Cuban public health system. This is a kidnapping,” Camila Remón, one of five members of SIM based in Miami, told Hyperallergic in an interview. “His demands were clear: for his art to be returned, for the police siege of his home to end, and for the government to respect freedom of creation.”

A work from Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s Caramelos sin saliva series. Members of the San Isidro Movement have overlaid a text that reads “Arte Culpable” (“Guilty Art”) in protest of state police’s harassment of the artist. (image courtesy of the San Isidro Movement)

A work from Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s Caramelos sin saliva series. Members of the San Isidro Movement have overlaid a text that reads “Arte Culpable” (“Guilty Art”) in protest of state police’s harassment of the artist. (image courtesy of the San Isidro Movement)

Most of the works taken from Alcántara belong to his Caramelos sin saliva (“Candy Without Saliva”) series, which are symbolic paintings of candy wrappers decrying poverty and scarcity through Cuban children’s want of sweets. “Garrote Vil,” a sculpture imitating a strangulation device that the artist has used in several performance pieces, was also seized.

“Most alarming right now is the lack of any news about him,” said Remón. “The movement’s campaign is now focused on demanding proof of life.” The hospital, Calixto García in the Vedado neighborhood, has issued conflicting reports of the artist’s health, and friends and family have not been allowed to visit or contact him, she adds. Cuban police has besieged the homes of several other activists on the island, including San Isidro members Amaury Pacheco and Iris Ruiz, and photographer Javier Caso recently announced a hunger strike in solidarity with Alcántara.

“I believing the dictatorship is employing a policy of isolation. They saw the power social media can have, and they won’t allow another 27N,” Remón added, referring to a sit-in held outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana on November 27, 2020. Convened to protest the arbitrary arrest of Denis Solís, a young Cuban rapper jailed for insulting a police officer, the demonstration made international headlines.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

https://hyperallergic.com/643340/cuban-artist-luis-manuel-otero-alcantara-forcibly-hospitalized-during-hunger-strike/

Institute for War & Peace Reporting, May 1, 2021

World Press Freedom Day 2021

Cuba Has a New Language of Dissent

The regime cannot counter the immediacy of radical but peaceful collective disobedience.

Raul Castro, gives speech on January 1, 2019, during celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. © YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

Raul Castro, gives speech on January 1, 2019, during celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. © YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

By Jesús Adonis Martínez

For 60 years, Cuba has lived under a totalitarian regime that violates the privacy of its citizens, maintaining a state of emergency over people’s memory and consciousness. It is a system that encourages citizens to spy, condemn and punish themselves and each other. 

This week’s resignation of 90-year-old Raúl Castro as first secretary of the Communist Party, the most important position in the Cuban hierarchy, has stripped Cuba’s Revolution of its historic dynamism. 

But things have not otherwise changed.  

After Fidel Castro’s death, the symbolic capital of the charismatic leader dried up. To a certain extent, it marked the irrevocable collapse of a utopia, with all that is left of the “revolution” now the ubiquitous word. 

“If secrecy is one of the preferred weapons of totalitarianism, there can be no better answer than to broadcast disruptive sequences of protest and repression live.”

Within the current government, the prevailing ideas are those of continued reformist economics and punitive legalism. There is an obsessive tendency to shore up the system’s structures. 

The difference now is in the immediacy and the scope – potentially viral – of the opposition to the regime’s totalitarian power. 

The technological shift of the internet–3G became available on the island at the end of 2018 – has not only favoured the emergence and relative influence of an independent media and artistic sector, but has also given way to a new syntax to express criticism, activism and political dissidence. 

The political parties, the official media, the repressive apparatus and judicial machinery of the authoritarian State are all too slow to effectively respond to this new immediacy.

Among the most startling of these initiatives are the collective San Isidro Movement (MSI) and more recently the 27N Group, formed of hundreds of artists, activists and independent journalists who came together in a rare public protest last November to advocate for freedom of expression.

It is worth taking some time to revisit the dizzying sequence of events that brought the groups to prominence. 

Rapper Denis Solis, a member of MSI, was accused of disrespecting a police officer who had previously entered his home on November 7 without a warrant. The video showing the incident went viral on social media; Solis was later sentenced in a swift trial. 

Fellow activists responded with demonstrations of solidarity and peaceful resistance that culminated three weeks later in a protest in front of the Ministry of Culture headquarters in Havana. 

Some 300 people convened there to condemn the violent eviction and detention of a group of hunger strikers and other activists inside the MSI headquarters in Old Havana. 

On November 27, 2020, hundreds of Havana residents exhibited their new status as citizens of a democratic Republic – “with all and for the good of all” – where it was possible to ask those in power to be accountable. 

It was the first demonstration of its kind in decades. What began as an individual act of stark affirmation against a regime that crosses all boundaries, soon became a collective gesture of radical but peaceful disobedience. It provoked a clash between the nation’s past and future before our eyes.  

If secrecy is one of the preferred weapons of totalitarianism, there can be no better answer than to broadcast disruptive sequences of protest and repression live.

In recent months, this activism has continued, despite a campaign of fines, police summons and interrogations. 

“We want an inclusive country, democratic, sovereign, prosperous, egalitarian and transnational country,” the MSI said in its Manifesto on April 12. 

For its part, the 27N declaration avoids the false and antagonistic dichotomy, the dialectical trap set by those in power in Cuba: either sovereignty or democracy. 

The official discourse exalts the sovereignty of the nation, denying or disqualifying as apostasy and mercenary activity any autonomous initiative to change the regime and democratise the country.   

This deliberate confusion aims to override the idea that a country relies not only on the government and formal state structures, but above all on its citizens’ entitlement to full human and political rights. 

Hence, it is my status as a citizen, understood – at least in principle – as an intellectual and political position, the factor that defines my opposition to the totalitarian administration of time, space and living forces of the nation. 

The state has not been silent in the face of this new movement. We have seen character assassinations of its leaders on prime-time television, coupled with acts of repudiation against activists and opposition figures. There have been house detentions, unwarranted surveillance and arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement, interrogations and imprisonments. 

A large number of Cubans on the island are still apathetic spectators to all this, with those who have emigrated at best spectators with a new perspective. 

But we do not yet know how many people, over the last few months, have begun a political and anthropological transition between their condition of mere spectator and that of  committed citizen. And what is the crucial point in which an individual experiences the necessary change to be able, in turn, to precipitate his or her country’s transformation? 

The Party has just begun another five-year term under new president Miguel Diaz Canel. But tyrannies tend to have unexpected endings.

Jesús Adonis Martínez is the editor of El Estornudo newspaper.

https://iwpr.net/global-voices/cuba-has-new-language-dissent

From the archives:

Amnesty International, May 10, 2021

Cuba must investigate beating and death of dissident

By Amnesty International

10 May 2011, 00:00 UTC

Cuba must immediately open an independent and impartial investigation into the death of a dissident that followed a public police beating, Amnesty International said today. Former political prisoner Juan Wilfredo Soto died in hospital on Sunday in the Cuban city of Santa Clara, three days after he reported being beaten following his arrest by police officers in a park. 

“The Cuban authorities need to immediately establish an independent inquiry into the causes of Juan Wilfredo Soto’s death.  If he ultimately died as a result of a police beating in Park Vidal, those responsible must face justice,” said Javier Zuñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.The Cuban government has strongly denied its security forces played any role in Soto’s death.  Hospital sources have reportedly stated he died from “acute pancreatitis”, a condition which can be triggered by abdominal trauma among other things. 

Soto belonged to Foro Antitotalitario Unido, an organization led by prominent dissident Guillermo Fariñas, serving as the Secretary for Political Prisoners in Santa Clara.  He had previously been imprisoned for 12 years for his dissenting activities. According to Fariñas, on 5 May at around 9am, two national police officers approached Soto in Park Vidal, asked him for his ID and then asked him to leave the park. He refused to comply and protested verbally against the expulsion. He was allegedly cuffed with his hands behind his back, then beaten with batons because he continued to protest his arrest.

Soto was detained at a police station, then hospitalised that day.  He was released from hospital the same afternoon only to return a day later to the intensive care unit, complaining of severe back pain.  He died at the hospital on the night of Saturday to Sunday.

A local source told Amnesty International that he bumped into Soto as he was going to the hospital on 5 May. According to the source, upon meeting him, Soto said “I just got a beating in the park with batons and I’ve got a very sore back. These people killed me.” 

Soto’s pre-existing medical conditions included gout, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.“There are too many unanswered questions.  There needs to be a thorough investigation of what happened to Juan Wilfredo Soto in the park, at the police station, and at the hospital,” said Javier Zuñiga.  “We are particularly concerned by this case because it takes place against a backdrop of ongoing harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of dissidents over the past few months, and increasing reports of beatings of dissidents by police.”

The Cuban authorities are continuing to stifle freedom of expression on the island in spite of a much-publicised recent wave of releases of prominent dissidents.Soto engaged in street trading in and around the park Vidal, because his political activism had resulted in him losing his job as a construction worker according to Guillermo Fariñas.  It is unclear whether the police officers initially asked him to leave the park because of his activism or his trading activities.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2011/05/cuba-must-investigate-beating-and-death-dissident/