CubaBrief: SOS Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara will mark 20 days arbitrarily detained tomorrow. Fears that he is being subjected to electroshock therapy. International solidarity increasing.

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Amnesty International today recognized  Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara as a prisoner of conscience for the third time since 2018. “Luis Manuel must not spend one more day under state custody. He has been detained solely because of his consciously held beliefs and must be released immediately and unconditionally. It is time for the Cuban authorities to recognize that they cannot silence all the independent voices in the country. Luis Manuel is not alone: many in the international community support his work as a human rights defender and as an artist fighting for freedom of expression,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Cuban artist Coco Fusco today published in e-flux journal an overview of what is being done to Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara titled “The Artist as Hostage: Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara“, and provides an international context.

“There is a Black artist in Cuba who has turned his own struggle with state authorities into a media spectacle that dramatizes the situation of his people. His work points to the contradictions between his society’s purported ideals and the governing elite’s ruthless pursuit of total power and wealth. He has been thrown in jail dozens of times, and tens of thousands of Cubans around the world follow him online. He is self-taught and of humble origins. He lives in a poor neighborhood in Old Havana, not far from the luxury hotels that tourists flock to so they can visit Cuba “before it changes.” The artist’s name is Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. He has no work in MoMA’s collection, he hasn’t been invited to a Venice Biennial or even recognized by the Black Lives Matter movement, but he’s the best-known artist in his homeland right now. He’s also public enemy #1. His government has done everything they can to stamp out his influence, short of killing him. Right now, he is in a hospital under police guard, and he might very well be dying.”

Tomorrow, May 22, 2021, will mark 20 days since state security agents forced their way into Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s home at 5:00am on May 2nd, and took him to Calixto Garcia Hospital.On April 25, 2021, Otero Alcántara initiated a hunger and thirst strike to protest the seizure and destruction of his works of art on April 16, 2021, his de facto house arrest, and the ongoing persecution of artists. Officials arbitrarily detained activists, like rapper and poet AfrikReina who tried to visit Luis Manuel at his home, and forcibly isolated him.

News reports are emerging with sources claiming that Luis Manuel is being subjected to electroshock therapy. There is reason to be concerned with these emerging claims of psychiatric instruments being applied against the Cuban dissident.

In 1991 Freedom House and Of Human Rights published The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba by Charles J. Brown and Armando M. Lago that reported on the political abuse of psychiatry in Cuba under the Castro regime. The preface was written by Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky in which he described how the Soviet Union used psychiatry as a weapon. Bukovsky observed that “Cuba in this regard is unique only by the hasty pace of the disease: it covered in thirty-two years what the Soviet Union achieved in seventy-three. Within a single generation, Cuba advanced from ‘revolutionary justice’ to ‘socialist legality,’ from liquidation of ‘class enemies’ to ‘political re-education’ and psychiatric treatment of those ‘apathetic to socialism’.”

#SOSCuba "Let the Freedom Flame Not Go Out" Action Collective performance of Osiris Cisneros & Olga Más w/ ProActivo Miami & Kiele Alessandra Cabrera & MSI en Miami

#SOSCuba “Let the Freedom Flame Not Go Out” Action Collective performance of Osiris Cisneros & Olga Más w/ ProActivo Miami & Kiele Alessandra Cabrera & MSI en Miami

The international community is mobilizing on behalf of Luis Manuel and denouncing this intolerable situation.

Dr. Rita Martin, a professor of Spanish and writer at Radford University in Virginia launched a petition today addressed to the African American community signed by Afro Cuban academics, journalists and community leaders such as Pablo Betancourt, Enrique Patterson, Gilberto Dihigo, Miguel Candelario, Dr. Francisco Moran, and Dr. Danielle Pilar Clealand. They join “the growing international outcry against the unjust house imprisonment by Cuban authorities of  Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the founding member and the leader of Movimiento San Isidro.” The petition is open online for others to sign. 

Amnesty International on May 20, 2021 issued an urgent action calling on members to write letters to the Cuban government demanding Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s immediate and unconditional release and to condemn his detention.

The Center for a Free Cuba continues to underscore its concerns of the life and safety of Luis Manuel, and recognized that his life is in danger.

“In the past, the Calixto García Hospital and other Cuban hospitals have been the scene of the death of other opponents under the control of the agents of the Ministry of the Interior, as was the case of the leader of the Ladies in White Laura Pollán Toledo in October 2011. The agents of the political police isolate the person, do not allow the entry of their relatives or friends, and the treatment they apply or the one they stop applying to lead them to death is unknown. There are numerous cases of unexplained deaths in hospitals on the Island under the custody of State Security. Another case was that of the blind opponent Sergio Díaz Larrastegui in April 2012.” In both cases, that of Pollán and that of Díaz Larrastegui, whose homes were headquarters in Havana of important human rights organizations, their deaths meant the closure of the headquarters and a severe blow to the civic movement.

In the case of Otero Alcántara, his home is the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, an organization that in recent months has raised its voice in favor of freedom of expression on the Island, achieving numerous spontaneous and organized demonstrations in favor of their demands. The regime that has brought this activist to the brink of death cannot be trusted to now want to save him. We must demand that he be freed immediately and returned to family and friends.

e-flux, May 2021

Journal #118 – May 2021

Coco Fusco

The Artist as Hostage: Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

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There is a Black artist in Cuba who has turned his own struggle with state authorities into a media spectacle that dramatizes the situation of his people. His work points to the contradictions between his society’s purported ideals and the governing elite’s ruthless pursuit of total power and wealth. He has been thrown in jail dozens of times, and tens of thousands of Cubans around the world follow him online. He is self-taught and of humble origins. He lives in a poor neighborhood in Old Havana, not far from the luxury hotels that tourists flock to so they can visit Cuba “before it changes.” The artist’s name is Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. He has no work in MoMA’s collection, he hasn’t been invited to a Venice Biennial or even recognized by the Black Lives Matter movement, but he’s the best-known artist in his homeland right now. He’s also public enemy #1. His government has done everything they can to stamp out his influence, short of killing him. Right now, he is in a hospital under police guard, and he might very well be dying.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, Cuba has been convulsed with protests staged by artists, dissidents, LGBTQ and animal rights activists, disgruntled farmers, indignant doctors, and regular folks that are angry about police brutality and food shortages. This fact has barely caught the attention of international observers. It’s hard to compete for the (first) world’s attention when the global pandemic still looms large, the US capital was recently overrun by domestic insurrectionists, Israel is bombing Gaza again, and mass protests are going on in Colombia, Myanmar, and Russia.

It’s also hard to get around the prevailing fixation on a mythical view of the Cuban revolution as anti-imperialism’s last stand, and to overcome foreigners’ morbid curiosity about an island that some believe to be frozen in time. Those of us that live in countries where it’s legal to take the streets sometimes forget that despite the tropicalist flamboyance of its popular culture, Cuba still bans protests and opposition political parties. Artivism, social practice, social engagement, and public art, the principal tactics employed by do-gooders of the art world, are all treated as criminal acts when carried out without state approval on the island, as is citizen journalism. The government just announced that it will also seek to try Cubans in absentia if they engage in such activities abroad. My publishing this piece probably means I won’t be going to Cuba any time soon.

Cuban activists and journalists often lament their government’s strategy of subjecting its opponents to a slow death via police harassment, short-term detentions, house arrests, disrupted telecommunications, invasive surveillance, expulsion from state organizations, and defamatory campaigns on state media. Those methods, together with the strong business ties between European investors and GAESA (the Cuban’s military’s tourism conglomerate), as well as the US trade embargo that serves as the Cuban government’s convenient excuse for everything it does and doesn’t do, help to keep the international outcry about the country’s human rights record to a minimum.

On top of all this, the Cuban government’s blanket rejection of its critics as mercenaries promoting US interests is widely accepted in the country’s progressive circles. Foreign journalists frequently insinuate that all Cubans who publish in outlets subsidized by American grants are politically suspect, despite the fact that journalists in most authoritarian states and developing countries depend on foreign subsidies. The singular focus on American support distorts a true understanding of how independent cultural endeavor is carried out in Cuba. Many of the most prominent Cuban independent media outlets are financed by European foundations and Cuban private investors in the diaspora.

Cuban exiles are the principal source of economic support for islanders who use the internet to transmit their complaints. Even those independent publications that do receive aid from US State Department-subsidized entities such as CIMA (the journalism division of the National Endowment for Democracy) assert that they are not subject to editorial control by their funders. There was a time during the Cold War when the US government was intent on overthrowing the Cuban government and exile hardliners advocated violence, but those days are past. The Cuban diaspora is far more politically diverse than it is given credit for, and the billions of dollars that it sends annually to relatives in Cuba sustain the very system that so many have chosen to leave.

While state repression has prompted many Cubans to flee the country over the last six decades, the scale and intensity of government attacks on artists and intellectuals have greatly intensified since 2018. During that same year, Cubans gained access to the internet on cell phones, which empowered them to share information with each other and with the rest of the world in real time. This explosion of criticality in the digital realm has put the Cuban government—which is unaccustomed to dialoguing with its citizenry—on the defensive. It also shattered the state’s hegemonic control over its public image at home and abroad at a time when its economy is in tatters.

Nonetheless, the Cuban government’s criminalization of dissent is far less newsworthy than televised executions or aerial attacks on civilians, which are more likely to generate international outrage. Whether that outrage would lead to action is an open question, especially for the art world, a sector of society that has become very adept at calling out its villains and praying for its embattled heroes, but that still resists taking a political stand against the policies and practices of governments.

One could attribute that reluctance to the individualism of its practitioners or restrictions against political advocacy imposed on American non-profits, but it would be naïve to ignore the fact that the art market benefits from its relative lack of state regulation, and also that keeping silent about government excesses is precisely what allows the commercial operations of the art world to remain unchecked.

https://www.e-flux.com/journal/118/398435/the-artist-as-hostage-luis-manuel-otero-alcntara/

IN SUPPORT OF THE RELEASE OF LUIS MANUEL OTERO ALCANTARA

URGENT HUMANITARIAN DECLARATION IN SUPPORT OF THE RELEASE OF LUIS MANUEL OTERO ALCANTARA

Letter to the African-American community

By Dr. Rita Martin

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We, the undersigned, join the growing international outcry against the unjust house imprisonment by Cuban authorities of LUIS MANUEL OTERO ALCANTARA, the founding member and the leader of Movimiento San Isidro. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is a brave and courageous Afro-Cuban civil rights leader who leads the project “Movimiento San Isidro.” The Movimiento San Isidro (MSI) or the San Isidro Movement, started two years ago to protest state censorship of artistic works and has now become a platform for Cubans who are not allowed to engage in critical thinking and dissention both within and outside the island by mixing art with political activism.

The repression of freedom of expression intensified with the imposition of Decree 349 (Decreto 349) which aims to further repress artistic works. First, according to the decree, only works of art approved by the State –that is, those not subject to censorship– will be allowed to be exhibited in public. Second, the role and definition of the artist itself remains an open question regarding whether the artist is required to be a member of a State institution. Since the government decides who can exhibit and what should be exhibited to the public as art, it is obvious that it will curate art itself according to its own ideological aims. As a matter of fact, the passing of Decree 349 triggered one of the widest opposition of intellectuals and artists against a government action during the revolution. (See: “Art Under Pressure: Decree 349 Restricts Creative Freedom in Cuba” Artists at Risk Connection March 4, 2019)

Alcántara has been put under house arrest for the alleged crimes of public disorder and contempt after voicing his legitimate demands. After the raid on his house located at 955 Damas in the San Isidro neighborhood and the destruction of his art works, he is asking the Cuban government for compensation in the amount of $500,000 and for the immediate removal of the police and surveillance cameras around his house. He also asks for a public apology from the Cuban government. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is one of the many Afro-Cubans who suffers and has suffered from systematic racism and constant repression by the Cuban state security apparatus.

After seven days of a hunger and thirst strike, the Cuban government raided his house and kidnapped him. But Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has not committed any crime. We demand that he should be released immediately from the hospital where he has been kept against his will. We are concerned about his health, which could be complicated by the danger of the Covid-19 epidemic on the island. The lack of transparency with which the government has kept Cubans from knowing the state of Otero Alcántara’s health, while they attack his reputation as an artist and labels him a delinquent, unpatriotic and undeserving person is also very troubling. His very humanity has been destroyed as the Cuban communist newspaper labeled him “scum”. The author of the article specifically explained, after an etymological analysis, that the ultimate meaning was waste and excrement. The article also features a racist caricature of Movimiento San Isidro. (See: Elson Concepción Pérez. “Coleccionistas de escoria”/“Scum Collectors”. Granma newspaper. May 5, 2021)

We demand the immediate release and return of his artwork, which was seized from his home and destroyed by the Cuban authorities. Moreover, we support his demands for freedom of expression and the end of police harassment. This statement, and the actions that we will be announcing in support of our demands are essential to our campaign to make political prisoners and the arbitrariness committed towards them visible. We believe that these citizen demands should not continue being ignored by the Cuban authorities. We cannot be silent in the face of increased violations of civil and human rights for those black activists in Cuba who dare raise their voices against the island’s systemic racism. (For other attacks on Otero Alcántara, see: José Llamos Camejo. “The Prodigal Son, the Godmother… and the Latest Farce against Cuba.” Notice that in spite of Government’s claims about the good health of Otero Alcántara, until today he remains in the hospital.)

We call on the authorities and Government of Cuba to immediately and unconditionally free our brother Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

Signatories:

Pablo Betancourt– Writer

Enrique Patterson–Former Professor of Philosophy, University of Havana

Gilberto Dihigo–Writer and Journalist

Miguel Candelario- Businessman

Dr. Francisco Moran– Emeritus Professor of Spanish and Writer, Southern Methodist University, Texas

Dr. Danielle Pilar Clealand– Professor of Political Science, University of Texas at Austin, Texas

Dr. Rita Martin– Professor of Spanish and Writer, Radford University, Virginia

[ And over 400 other signers and counting. Petition is still open for signature.]

https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/in-support-of-the-release-of-luis-manuel-otero

Amnesty International, May 21, 2021

Cuba: Amnesty International names Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara of the San Isidro Movement a prisoner of conscience

21 May 2021, 22:37 UTC

Amnesty International named Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a member of the San Isidro Movement, a group of artists and activists, as a prisoner of conscience today and urged President Miguel Díaz Canel Bermúdez and other Cuban authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

On 2 May 2021 state security officials took Luis Manuel from his home, the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, where he was carrying out a hunger strike reportedly in protest over his artwork being confiscated from his home. According to information from the NGO Cubalex and state media, he was taken to the emergency ward of the Hospital Universitario “General Calixto García” in Havana.

“Luis Manuel must not spend one more day under state custody. He has been detained solely because of his consciously held beliefs and must be released immediately and unconditionally. It is time for the Cuban authorities to recognize that they cannot silence all the independent voices in the country. Luis Manuel is not alone: many in the international community support his work as a human rights defender and as an artist fighting for freedom of expression,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

As far as Amnesty International can ascertain, Luis Manuel has been at the hospital under the supervision or control of state security officials, with very restricted visits from his immediate family for almost three weeks. He does not seem to have access to his telephone or the outside world. Pending his release, Luis Manuel Otero should be provided with medical care of his choice, granted regular visits from family and friends, not be tortured or otherwise ill-treated, and given access to lawyers of his choosing.

Amnesty International has named Luis Manuel a prisoner of conscience on two previous occasions, when he was detained solely for peacefully exercising his freedom of expression. He and other members of the San Isidro Movement, as well as allies and journalists, have been placed under constant and frightening surveillance, which Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps and researchers documented in December 2020.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/cuba-preso-conciencia-luis-manuel-otero-alcantara-movimiento-san-isidro/


Amnesty International, May 20, 2021

FIRST UA: 055/21 Index: AMR 25/4147/2021 CubaDate: 20 May 2021

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URGENT ACTION

ARTIST OPPOSING CENSORSHIP IN DETENTION

On 2 May, Cuban state security officials took artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántarafromhis home and to a hospital, while he was hunger-striking in protest over the confiscation of artwork from his home around the 22 April. Luis Manuel is a key figure in the San Isidro Movement, a diverse group of independent artists, journalists and activists that defend freedom of expression in Cuba. We demand his immediate and unconditional release.

TAKE ACTION: WRITE AN APPEAL IN YOUR OWN WORDS OR USE THIS MODEL LETTER

Miguel Díaz Canel
President of the Republic of Cuba
Hidalgo, Esquina 6. Plaza de la Revolución
La Habana, CP 10400 Cuba
Email: despacho@presidencia.gob.cu
Twitter: @DiazCanelB
Facebook: /PresidenciaCuba

Dear Mr President,

I write to you to condemn the detention of Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a key leader of the San Isidro Movement. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been held seemingly under state custody in a hospital in Havana since 2 May, with little contact with the outside world and reportedly highly restricted visits, solely for peacefully exercising his freedom of expression.
Prior to this, Luis Manuel Otero has faced harassment and intimidation from state security officials due to his work as a human rights defender. Just in December 2020, he was subjected to frightening levels of surveillance and, following another hunger strike, was ultimately detained under similar circumstances.

Luis Manuel Otero is detained solely for peacefully expressing his ideas. I therefore urge you to secure his immediate and unconditional release.

Yours sincerely,

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has become a leading voice of the San Isidro Movement (SIM), a diverse group of independent artists, journalists, academics and activists that defend freedom of expression in Cuba, originally created to protest Decree 349, a dystopic law that stands to censor artists in the country.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was taken by state security officials on 2 May 2021 from his home, the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, where he was carrying out a hunger strike reportedly in protest over his artwork being confiscated from his home. According to information from the NGO Cubalex and state media, he was taken to a hospital in Havana, the Centro de Urgencias del Hospital Universitario “General Calixto García.”

As far as Amnesty International can ascertain, Luis Manuel is currently at the hospital, under supervision or control of state security officials and with very restricted visits from immediate family. He does not seem to have access to his telephone or the outside world. Additionally, based on the information Amnesty International has received, he may still be on hunger strike. As such, Luis Manuel Otero should be provided with medical care of his choice, be granted regular visits from family and friends, not be tortured or otherwise ill-treated,and granted access to lawyers of his choosing.
According to Cubalex, and Amnesty International documentation, state security officials have repeatedly had Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara under surveillance for months and he faced arrest by police if he tried to leave his house, in practice amounting to house arrest. Luis Manuel’s latest detention has occurred within a context of reports of harassment and intimidation against other members of the SIM and shows Cuba’s ongoing repression of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression in the country.

Luis Manuel has been named a prisoner of conscience of Amnesty International twice already, in both cases for being detained solely for peacefully exercising his freedom of expression. He and members of the San Isidro Movement, as well as allies and journalists have also been under constant and frightening surveillance, which Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Team and researchers documented in December 2020.

PREFERRED LANGUAGE TO ADDRESS TARGET: Spanish.

You can also write in your own language.
PLEASE TAKE ACTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE UNTIL:29 June2021

Please check with the Amnesty office in your country if you wish to send appeals after the deadline.

NAME AND PREFERRED PRONOUN: Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara(he/his)

LINK TO PREVIOUS UA: N/A
https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AMR2541472021ENGLISH.pdf

The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba, 1991

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On the Outskirts of the Empire

Vladimir Bukovsky

 After reading the documents and testimonies collected in this book, one can feel disgusted and outraged, but not surprised. We have learned long ago that Communist regimes, be they in Vietnam or Cuba, Ethiopia or China, are very much alike: just the sparks, the embers of the huge fire set in the world seventy-four years before. Actually, we would be surprised not to find familiar features in each of them because, to borrow Solzhenitsyn’s metaphor, they are like metastases of the same cancer striving to reproduce itself in every part of the globe. Cuba in this regard is unique only by the hasty pace of the disease: it covered in thirty-two years what the Soviet Union achieved in seventy-three. Within a single generation, Cuba advanced from “revolutionary justice” to “socialist legality,” from liquidation of “class enemies” to “political re-education” and psychiatric treatment of those “apathetic to socialism.”

There are, of course, some differences, too. Strictly speaking, the Cuban regime, where the supreme leader combines in himself Lenin and Stalin, Khrushchev and Breshnev, does not need to employ psychiatric repression. Invented at the time of “peaceful coexistence,” perfected in the era of détente, Soviet political psychiatry was intended as a camouflage, allowing the regime to present a more “liberal” image while continuing political repression. In the Cuban context, however, it became just another form of torture. There is no political need for sophisticated diagnostics, no sudden epidemic of “sluggish schizophrenia”[1] among dissidents, no Cuban equivalents to Dr. Lunts and Professor Morozov.[2]

Quite a few dissidents were actually diagnosed as sane, or not diagnosed at all, before being sent to the psychiatric gulag and subjected to electric shocks. I imagine even Dr. Lunts would have been outraged seeing such a barbaric application of his elaborate theories.

In short, this is not yet a political abuse of psychiatry as we know it, but rather a bad imitation of it by a not too bright apprentice. One wonders why did the Cuban comrades bother at all to borrow this latest achievement of socialism, if they are not using it properly? Could it be a result of a general Soviet pressure to “liberalize” the Cuban regime and make it more presentable? Or, was it just an instruction from Moscow, routinely dispatched to the outskirts of the empire and wrongly interpreted by a lazy official? Perhaps we will never know.

The fact remains, however, that the first steps toward the political abuse of psychiatry have been made, and further developments are quite likely. Once the political need for a more civilized image of the Cuban regime is accepted in Havana, new better dressed, and cleanly shaven leaders of the Cuban Revolution will appreciate the full potential of the Soviet invention. Then we will hear more and more stories about mental disorders afflicting Cuban society, and it will become much more difficult to cure than now.

Vladimir Bukovsky

Cambridge, England

[1] A diagnosis commonly used against Soviet dissidents in order to commit them to mental institutions. The concept of “sluggish” or “creeping” schizophrenia was developed by Professor Andre Snezhnevsky, whose diagnostic framework had a major impact on Soviet psychiatry until his death in 1987. For more on the role of diagnosis in the Cuban model, see pp. 21-22

[2] Dr. Daniil Lunts and Professor Georgy Morozov are probably the most infamous practitioners of Soviet psychiatric abuse. Lunts systematically perverted his diagnosis of human rights activists and other patients while serving at the notorious Serbsky Institute of Forensic Psychiatry in Moscow. Morozov served as the head of the Serbsky Institute.