CubaBrief: Castro regime locks up two artists and banishes two other activists all affiliated with the viral music video Patria y Vida

Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara when free.

Cuban artists and prisoners of conscience Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez were sentenced to five and nine years in prison respectively by the Castro regime on June 24, 2022. The Center for a Free Cuba condemned the ongoing political show trials that have unjustly jailed hundreds of innocent Cubans, including these two artists, and called for their immediate release in a press advisory.

Both are members of the San Isidro Movement, founded in Havana, Cuba in 2018 to defend artistic freedom. Both appeared in the Patria y Vida video that went viral in Cuba, and around the world.

Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez was one of the co-authors of the song, and won together with the other musicians two Latin Grammys in 2021.

“Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo Pérez has been arbitrarily detained since May 18, 2021. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been unjustly jailed since July 11, 2021 when the political police detained him to prevent him participating in the 11J protests. Neither Cuban artist should have ever been imprisoned, and both have been recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. These are not just trials, but part of a terror campaign by the Cuban government to silence dissent in Cuba.

Maykel and Luis Manuel went before a judge in a pair of closed-door trials on May 30 and 31, 2022.

Cuban artist Coco Fusco provided context to Artnet News on the significance of these sentences that “constitute a gross injustice and serve as further evidence of the lack of a rule of law in Cuba.” 

“Imagine that Dread Scott, David Hammons, and Bettye Saar were imprisoned for their interpretations of the American flag,” Fusco said. “That is what has happened to Luis. Billie Holiday was punished for singing ‘Strange Fruit’ during segregation. Maykel is now punished for singing about the repression of his people by a dictatorship.”

This brings the total number of Cubans sentenced to prison time to 452 related to the 11J protests. However, there are another 277 Cubans detained, because of their role in the 11J protests. This brings the total number of Cubans jailed for 11J protests to 729, according to Cubalex. The Cuban dictatorship identified 790 Cubans, including 55 minors, prosecuted for the July 2021 demonstrations.

Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in show trial footage released by the regime.

Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in show trial footage released by the regime.

The rule of law does not exist in Cuba. Trials that do not meet international standards that are applied against political dissidents are one example. A second is the practice of denying Cubans their right to return home.

One day after Maykel Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara were sentenced, the Cuban dictatorship denied Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola, a university professor, nonviolent Cuban dissident, and cancer patient who resides in Cuba, the right to return home on June 25, 2022. She was also a member of the San Isidro Movement. On February 16, 2022, another member of the San Isidro Movement, Anamely Ramos González, was denied the right to return home to Cuba. There have been many other cases over the years. This is a violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on June 25, 2022

Take a closer look at the Patria y Vida music video. The artists associated with this work who remain on the island are now in prison ( Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez). El Funky is in exile, and both Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola and Anamely Ramos González have been barred from entering Cuba, by the dictatorship and complicit airlines carrying out Havana’s instructions.

Anamely Ramos González at Miami International airport on February 16, 2022

The claim that Maykel and Luis Manuel’s “arrests were not directly related to large-scale protests that broke out later in 2021 over economic hardships and government policies” does not pass the smell test.

Although Maykel’s arrest was on May 18, 2022 the permanence of his detention, reports that he was given the option to go into exile, and the reverberations of Patria y Vida, the song, he co-authored and performed, on Cuban society indicates otherwise.

Consider the following.

First the protesters were chanting freedom, an end to the dictatorship and singing Patria y Vida lyrics as they nonviolently marched through the streets in mid July 2021, and were met with deadly force by the Cuban dictatorship.

Secondly, Luis Manuel was arrested on July 11, 2021 as the protests broke out. The arrest on July 11, 2021 was not related to mass protests taking place?

Third, banishing Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola and Anamely Ramos González, who also appear in the video, is just another coincidence?

The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2022

World

Latin America

Latin Grammy Winner Gets 9-Year Prison Sentence in Cuba

Cuban court sentences rapper Maykel Castillo and artist Luis Manuel Otero for contempt, public disorder and desecrating national symbols

The viral rap song ‘Patria y Vida’ won two Latin Grammys at last year’s ceremony in Las Vegas.Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

By Santiago Pérez and José de Córdoba

Updated June 24, 2022 6:53 pm ET

A Cuban court imposed prison sentences on two famous Cuban artists who took part in composing and recording “Patria y Vida,” the viral rap song that became the anthem for disaffected Cubans banned by Cuba’s Communist regime and won two Latin Grammys last year.

Hip-hop singer Maykel Castillo and visual artist Luis Manuel Otero, who are leading members of a dissident movement defending civil rights on the communist island, were convicted of contempt and public disorder, among other charges, Cuba’s attorney general’s office said on Friday.

The 38-year-old Mr. Castillo was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges that he sought to “defile and harm the honor and dignity of the country’s highest authorities,” according to the attorney general’s office. Charges included public disobedience and contempt, disrespecting national symbols, and attacking a police officer.

Mr. Otero, a 34-year-old visual artist whose provocative street performances have challenged the government, received a five-year prison sentence for contempt, public disorder and “desecrating national symbols.”

The last charge stems from a performance called “Drapeau,” French for flag, where Mr. Otero went around the country with the Cuban flag. He swam in the ocean with it, lay on it as if it were a beach towel, used it as a bedsheet, and draped it on his shoulders as he walked through Havana. He then posted photographs on social media of his acts.

Both artists have said that the charges are politically motivated and aim to suppress dissent and artistic freedom in the country.

“Luis and Maykel have to be made an example of,” said Coco Fusco, a Cuban-American artist and professor at Cooper Union in New York who has close ties with Cuban artists on the island. She said the Cuban government fears deteriorating economic conditions will lead to another wave of mass protest like the demonstrations that shook the regime on July 11 last year.

The U.S. condemned the prison sentences. “The U.S. is outraged by the unjust sentences of Cuban artists @LMOAlcantara and Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo,” State Department spokesman Ned Price posted on Twitter. “Cuban authorities must release these artists and all those detained simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Both artists have been detained by Cuba’s security agents dozens of times in recent years because of their work and their participation in the San Isidro Movement, a grass-roots collective of mostly Black artists from the poorest quarters of Old Havana. The movement became a leading force in a campaign for civil rights in Cuba that sparked last year’s nationwide protests.

“The Cuban regime fears Luis Manuel and Maykel because their art and peaceful activism helped mobilize the population in the July 11 protests that were the biggest popular challenge to the Cuban regime in its history,” said Juan Pappier, senior researcher at the Americas division of Human Rights Watch.

Close to 1,500 people were arrested during the protests, and almost half of them are still in detention, according to 11J, a Cuban civil society group that tracks detentions in the country.

Mr. Castillo has been in a high security prison since April of last year. Mr. Otero was detained on July 11, as hundreds of thousands of Cubans rallied across the island to demand freedom.

“They are in very cruel and painful conditions, there’s physical and psychological torture, you spend a lot of time in solitary confinement,” said Esteban Rodríguez, a 35-year-old member of the San Isidro Movement who spent a year in the prison near Havana where Mr. Otero is being held.

“I don’t know hell, but it shouldn’t be too different from this,” said Mr. Rodríguez. Detained in April of last year, the journalist was released from prison and forcibly exiled by Cuban authorities in January.

The government has offered to release the artists from prison if they agree to go into permanent exile. Mr. Otero has refused to leave Cuba, while Mr. Castillo hasn’t been allowed to request a visa at the U.S. consulate, said Anamely Ramos, a close friend and fellow member of the San Isidro Movement. She lives in New York after Cuban authorities refused her entry to Cuba from the U.S. a few months ago.

“It was an arbitrary trial and sentence,” said Ms. Ramos. “We don’t even know whether they have been notified of the sentence or what their reaction will be. They have previously gone on hunger strikes to defend their rights.”

Cuba is suffering its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, an era known as the “special period” during which the island’s economy shrunk an estimated 35%.

As the island swelters in the tropical summer, Cubans are suffering from power outages and standing in long lines to buy scarce basic foods. The harsh conditions and the continuing political repression have prompted a massive migration from the island.

Close to 140,000 Cubans were detained at U.S. borders between October and May, surpassing the 125,000 who arrived in the U.S. during the Mariel boatlift in 1980.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/latin-grammy-winner-gets-9-year-prison-sentence-in-cuba-11656105948

Associated Press, June 25, 2022

Dissident artist, rapper sentenced to prison in Cuba

By ANDREA RODRÍGUEZ Associated Press June 25, 2022 10:59 AM

Diplomats from several countries wait outside the court building where a trial is going on for Cuban artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Castillo in Havana, Cuba, Monday May 30, 2022. The artists were arrested and imprisoned in connection with alleged public disorder at a community event they hosted in April 2021. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) Ramon Espinosa AP

HAVANA Two members of a loose-knit group of dissident artists have been sentenced to prison in Cuba, the country’s prosecutor’s office said Friday. Maikel Castillo was sentenced to nine years for attacks and defamation against the country’s institutions and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, 34, to five years for insulting national symbols. Both were involved with the so-called San Isidro Movement — named for the neighborhood where Otero Alcántara lives — that had attracted unusually wide support among prominent Cuban artists and musicians in 2020.

Their arrests had been denounced by international human rights organizations as well as the U.S. government, which considered them political persecution. The government said it was merely applying the law as it would to anyone. Prosecutors had sought 10 years for Castillo, better by the performance name “Osorbo,” and seven for Alcántara, according to their friends. The same court also imposed a five year sentence on Félix Roque Delgado and three years on two women who were convicted of hitting police in an effort to halt the arrest of Castillo, a 39-year-old rapper. He was among the composers of the song “Patria y Vida” — “Fatherland and Life” — whose twist on the Communist government’s “Fatherland or Death! slogan made it a sort of anthem for opposition figures. It won a Latin Grammy award this year. Otero Alcántara’s artworks featuring the Cuban flag were considered disrespectful. In November 2020, police broke up a sort of sit-in at Otero Alcántara’s house in support of another rapper, Denis Solís, who had been sentenced to prison for insulting a police officer. Castillo was among those taking part in the sit-in. Officials said they were enforcing pandemic restrictions on gatherings, but the movet prompted about 200 people to stage a larger, almost unprecedented protest outside the Culture Ministry. That broke up after members of the group said they’d won an unusual government vow of greater tolerance for independent art.

Otero Alcántara also was the focus of protests by other artists following his arrest last year. He was hospitalized — reportedly during a hunger strike — to demand the return of works that authorities had confiscated when he was detained. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had issued statements calling the case against the two artists a “farse.” Their arrests were not directly related to large-scale protests that broke out later in 2021 over economic hardships and government policies.

https://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/article262867143.html

Center for a Free Cuba, Washington, DC, June 25, 2022

Center for a Free Cuba denounces the Cuban government’s denial of the right to return to Cuban dissident, academic, and cancer survivor Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola.

Calls for Cuba to be voted off the UN Human Rights Council.

Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on June 25, 2022

Washington DC. June 25, 2022. The Center for a Free Cuba denounces Havana’s denial of the right to return of Cuban national and cancer survivor Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola, and calls for international solidarity on her behalf.

On June 25, 2022 with her documents in order, and plane ticket in hand, a representative of Southwest Airlines in Fort Lauderdale told Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola that she could not board the flight home on instructions of the Cuban government. Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola is a university professor, nonviolent Cuban dissident, and cancer patient who resides in Cuba.

The Cuban government has a track record of politicizing health care. Professor Ruiz Urquiola says the Cuban government and State Security were manipulating her cancer medication received from the National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology in Cuba in an effort to kill her. “That’s why I had to come. I had no other alternative and I didn’t want to travel,” she explained in a Facebook Live earlier today.

“I cannot predict what will happen to me because I am in shock. I did not expect such arbitrariness. My properties are in Cuba, my mother, my animals, my life, everything is in Cuba and they decide that I cannot enter,” said Professor Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. “These are the results of doing business with human rights violators. I came (to the United States) for a medical issue, it was fulfilled, I recovered and they won’t let me go home,” she said.

The Cuban professor tried to return home today after completing her cancer treatment, but was denied boarding onto her Southwest Airlines flight to Cuba by Southwest personnel on the instructions of Cuban government officials.

“Denying Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola her right to return to her homeland is not only a violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but violates existing Cuban law, demonstrating the tyrannical nature of the Cuban government, and the decades long internal blockade erected against Cubans by the Castro regime. The Center for a Free Cuba condemns this arbitrary denial of a fundamental human right and calls on the international community to hold Havana responsible,” stated John Suarez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba who then added, “this is another reason why we are calling for Cuba to be voted off of the UN Human Rights Council.”

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

The Cuban government systematically violates this universal human right.

The Center supports her decision to protest this unjust action by regime officials, and condemns another manifestation of the internal blockade constructed by the Cuban government that continues to systematically oppress Cubans.

CFC together with 1,200 other petitioners is calling for Cuba to be expelled from the UN Human Rights Council.

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https://www.cubacenter.org/articles-and-events/2022/6/25/press-release-cfc-denounces-the-cuban-govts-denial-of-the-right-to-return-to-cuban-dissident-academic-and-cancer-survivor-omara-urquiola

Artnet News, June 24, 2022

Law

Two Dissident Cuban Artists Have Been Slapped With Lengthy Prison Sentences for Speaking Out Against the State

Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Rapper Maykel Castillo will serve five and nine years in prison, respectively.

Taylor Dafoe, June 24, 2022

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. Courtesy of MSI via Twitter.

A Havana court sentenced two prominent Cuban artists to lengthy prison terms today, concluding a trial that human rights organizations have called a thinly-veiled example of the state’s attempt to silence dissident voices.

Artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was sentenced to five years in prison for contempt, public disorder, and “insulting symbols of the homeland,” according to a statement released today by the Cuban Attorney General’s office. The announcement alluded to Otero Alcántara’s use of the Cuban flag during artistic performances, pictures of which were shared widely on social media.

Rapper Maykel Castillo was found guilty of contempt, public disorder, and “defamation of institutions and organizations, heroes and martyrs.” The latter charge relates to a meme Castillo’s posted last year criticizing communist leaders. He will serve nine years in prison.

The two creatives have 10 days to appeal their sentences, state media reported.

In a message to Hyperallergic, Otero Alcántara’s partner, curator Claudia Genlui, called the sentences “a great disrespect and an injustice.” 

“They are condemning them for making art,” she said.

In a statement, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, referred to the trials as a “shameful example of the human rights crisis caused by the Cuban government’s decades-long policy of repression.”

“Both Luis Manuel and Maykel are artists who have used art as a means of expressing their views on the social, political, and economic conditions in Cuba,” Guevara-Rosas continued. “They are two emblematic examples of how Miguel Díaz-Canel’s government uses the judicial system to criminalize critical voices, including through charges of alleged crimes that are incompatible with international law.”

Otero Alcántara and Castillo are just two of the several hundreds of Cubans sentenced to prison in recent weeks for crimes related to the mass protests that rocked Havana last summer—the largest demonstrations the country has seen since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. 

Earlier this month, the Cuban government announced that it had sanctioned 381 people, 297 of whom were sentenced to prison terms of between five and 25 years. 

A founding member of the dissident San Isidro Movement, Otero Alcántara has, for years, been outspoken in his criticism of the communist Cuban government under president Miguel Díaz-Canel. 

He was arrested on his way to a Havana demonstration in July 2021 and has remained in a maximum-security penitentiary outside the capital city since. (The artist waged two hunger strikes in protest of his treatment at the facility.) Otero Alcántara was named to TIME‘s list of the 100 most influential people in the world last September. 

Castillo, who goes by the stage name Osorbo, was among the co-writers of the popular protest song “Patria y Vida,” which became the unofficial anthem of the last summer’s 11J demonstrations and won a Latin Grammy award this year. He was arrested in May of last year and has remained in detention since.

The two men went before a judge in a pair of closed-door trials on May 30 and 31.

Cuban artist Coco Fusco told Artnet News in an email that the sentences “constitute a gross injustice and serve as further evidence of the lack of a rule of law in Cuba.” 

“Imagine that Dread Scott, David Hammons, and Bettye Saar were imprisoned for their interpretations of the American flag,” Fusco said. “That is what has happened to Luis. Billie Holiday was punished for singing ‘Strange Fruit’ during segregation. Maykel is now punished for singing about the repression of his people by a dictatorship.”

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/two-dissident-cuban-creatives-prison-sentences-2136588?fbclid=IwAR125pQLGgnCuOLUljnXeO7HDPY5KS1yLZW-hqa1ig6wyF4B9KSlPWLczks

Amnesty International, June 24, 2022

Cuba: Amnesty International condemns sentences of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo

© Natasha Pizzey for Amnesty International

In response to today’s decision by the Popular Municipal Court of Central Havana sentencing artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez to five and nine years in prison, respectively, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said:  

“Both Luis Manuel and Maykel are artists who have used art as a means of expressing their views on the social, political and economic conditions in Cuba. They are two emblematic examples of how Miguel Díaz-Canel’s government uses the judicial system to criminalize critical voices, including through charges of alleged crimes that are incompatible with international law. The international community must continue to publicly condemn these practices, which openly undermine the full exercise of human rights in the country.”  

“Despite demands from various actors within the international community, the trials of Luis Manuel and Maykel, which should never have taken place, were conducted behind closed doors and under heavy police control, according to reports from activists. Amnesty International also received information from activists and journalists, denouncing the presence of security agents in the vicinity of their homes, to prevent them from going outside the court where the trials were held”.  

“The trials of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo are a shameful example of the human rights crisis caused by the Cuban government’s decades-long policy of repression.  Amnesty International condemns the criminalization of these prisoners of conscience, who are being held solely for exercising their rights.”  

“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Luis Manuel Otero, Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo and all those imprisoned for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and defending rights in Cuba.” 

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Duncan Tucker at duncan.tucker@amnesty.org

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/06/cuba-amnesty-condemns-sentences-luis-manuel-otero-alcantara-maykel-osorbo-castillo/