CubaBrief: Update on prisoners of conscience in Cuba

“Never allow the government – or anyone else – to tell you what you can or cannot believe or what you can and cannot say or what your conscience tells you to have to do or not do.” – Armando Valladares, former Cuban prisoner of conscience and Ambassador to the UNHRC.. Spent 22 years in Castro’s prisons.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Aniette González: Two of the over 1,000 prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

There are currently over a thousand prisoners of conscience in Cuba. Most were jailed for taking part in nationwide protests in July 2021 demanding freedom, human rights, and an end to dictatorship.

14ymedio reported that Amnesty International condemned the February 2, 2024 decision of the Municipal Court of Camagüey to sentence activist Aniette González García to three years in prison. Her crime? She was convicted of “outraging national symbols”, the 43-year-old woman was arrested “for publishing a photo on social networks with the national flag in solidarity with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.”

Collage of some of the over 1,000 political prisoners jailed today in Cuba ( Office of Carlos A. Gimenez )

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is one of the founders of Cuba’s San Isidro movement, Luis Manuel helped bring injustices against artists by the Cuban government to the global stage. In 2021, Alcántara was named an “icon” by Time magazine. He was jailed trying to go out to protest on July 11, 2021, and on June 24, 2022, he was sentenced to five years in prison, after a trial behind closed doors. In prison, Luis Manuel’s health is declining and he’s not getting proper medical care, reported Amnesty International.

Luis Manuel in a message sent from prison concludes: “I struggle in this horrible place, which contrasts starkly with my reality in freedom, a reality full of beautiful sunrises, love and friendships. As a result, the good experiences of love have assumed another dimension in my consciousness.”

In 1987, the documentary “Nobody Listened” captured the human rights reality in Cuba with interviews with former political prisoners, archival footage of firing squads and other instances of repression. Former prisoners described show trials, extrajudicial executions, and cruel and unusual punishment that rose to the level of torture. 37 years later, and Cuba’s prisons remain full of political prisoners, The documentary demonstrates that repression in Cuba is not a bug, but a feature of the system.

Thirty five years have passed since the last time the International Committee of the Red Cross was able to visit Cuban prisons. Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the U.S. Guantanamo detention facility over 100 times since 2002.

There are those who for decades have sought to normalize this abnormal and abhorrent state of affairs that have plagued Cuba for 65 years, but what they have done is to spread the contagion to Nicaragua, and Venezuela, inviting more misery to tens of millions more.

The Provincial Court of Artemisa in Cuba rejected an application for parole for the Cuban artist and political prisoner Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, as revealed on February 7, 2024 by Claudia Genlui, Luis’s girlfriend and an art curator on her social networks.

Amnesty International recognizes Luis Manuel as a prisoner of conscience, and continues to demand his release.

14ymedio, February 3, 2024

Amnesty International Denounces the Conviction of Aniette Gonzalez for Her Photos with the Cuban Flag

Aniette González, Cuban activist sentenced to three years in prison by Havana. José Luis Tan Estrada/X

14ymedio, Havana, February 3, 2024 — Amnesty International condemned this Friday the decision of the Municipal Court of Camagüey to sentence activist Aniette González García to three years in prison. Accused of “outraging national symbols”, the 43-year-old woman was arrested “for publishing a photo on social networks with the national flag in solidarity with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.”

Hours before, independent journalist José Luis Tan Estrada had shared on his X account the sentence of González, who has been held in the Kilo 5 women’s prison, in Camagüey, since March 23, 2023. The text clarifies that the Ministry The Interior will now have the power to choose in which prison González will serve her sentence and list the accessory sanctions that apply to her.

With the loss of her freedom, the activist will also be stripped of her right to vote and of the 1.60 meter flag with which she was photographed. The banner – the “property that was used in the commission of the crime” – will, from now on, be the property of the municipal headquarters of the Union of Young Communists, “where it is delivered” and which may use it as it deems appropriate.

González is regulated for the duration of the sentence — that is forbidden to travel outside the country — although the prohibition on leaving Cuba will only be valid while she is in prison. Also, as a formality, she is prevented from holding “positions” in entities that have to do with the economy and politics in Cuba.

The authorities will consider that the activist is a “repeat offender” before granting her any benefit or mitigation, underlines the text, which also decrees that González be kept in provisional prison until the sentence is fully carried out.

In August 2023, the Prosecutor’s Office had requested a four-year sanction for González for violating the flag, photographing herself wrapped in it. In March, after her arrest, González spent several days in the State Security barracks in the province of Camagüey. Shortly after, the Police informed her family that she would be transferred to jail under the precautionary measure of preventive detention and that she would be taken to trial for the photographs she spread on her social networks.

In the photos, which are part of a performance, González is seen standing with her body covered by the national flag and, in another image, she is sitting with her face covered by the flag. With these images, the activist joined the campaign The Flag Belongs to Everyone, in solidarity with the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, imprisoned in the maximum security prison of Guanajay (Artemisa), for the crimes of insulting the symbols of the country, contempt and public disorder.

In 2019, the artist created the work Drapeau, using the flag as a claim that it is a symbol of the Cuban population. The regime immediately detained him and, after several complaints from human rights defenders, he was released, but the harassment did not stop.

On 11 July 2021, he was arrested before being able to join the mass protests that took place that day throughout the Island, although it was not until June 2022 that the Popular Municipal Court of Central Havana sentenced him to five years in prison.

https://translatingcuba.com/amnesty-international-denounces-the-conviction-of-aniette-gonzalez-for-her-photos-with-the-cuban-flag/

The Art Newspaper,  January 16, 2024

Detained Cuban artist and activist releases latest statement from prison

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was imprisoned on charges of contempt and insult to national symbols when widespread protests swept the nation in 2021

Gareth Harris

16 January 2024

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara Photo: Video from Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on Facebook 

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.

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2024/01/16/detained-cuban-artist-activist-releases-latest-statement-prison-luis-manuel-otero-alcantara

Translating Cuba, February 9, 2024

A Cuban Court Alleges that Otero Alcantara Is Not Ready for ‘Social Reintegration’

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been in prison since July 2021 and has served half of the five-year sentence imposed on him. (IG/ Claudia Genlui)

14ymedio, Havana, 8 February 2024 — The Provincial Court of Artemisa rejected an application for parole for the Cuban artist and political prisoner Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, as revealed on Wednesday by art curator Claudia Genlui on her social networks.

The leader of the San Isidro Movement was imprisoned in July 2021 and sentenced in June 2022 to five years in prison for the crimes of insulting the symbols of the homeland, contempt and public disorder. Despite the fact that he was not legally eligible to apply for parole, the reason, according to Genlui, is not related to those regulations.

According to the resolution, “The purposes of the penalty have not been achieved, and he is not in a position to face social reintegration in a positive way before family and society. The maximum penalty, having to remain in prison, applies for crimes under Instruction 273 of the Council of Government of the Popular Supreme Court.”

Genlui, the artist’s partner and one of his main spokespersons since he entered prison, said that Otero Alcántara’s family and friends will continue to denounce the violence of the system, which never ceases to intimidate citizens. “Those who are not in a position to face society or their own relatives are all the Castro judges, prosecutors and military who are part of the fascist and macabre game of the dictatorship,” she wrote.

The law specifies that any prisoner who has served a third of his sentence, in the case of children under 20 years of age at the time of imprisonment, or half the penalty for primary sanctions and two-thirds in the case of repeat offenders, is able to apply for parole. The latter would be the case of the artist, who since 2017 has suffered a multitude of arrests, the first that year for “illegal possession of construction materials” related to the 00 Biennial, an alternative art exhibition to the official Biennial of Havana.

It is unknown if the court states in its resolution that the artist does not meet any formal requirement, but it does point out reasons related to an alleged inability to live in society. In addition, it expressly alludes to Instruction 273, approved by the Supreme Court in 2022 and called the “policy of rigor in the face of the most harmful behaviors that affect society and the population.” It lists a long series of crimes that affect “citizen tranquility” including “altering public and constitutional order.”

The State considers that those who have committed crimes of this type, as is the case of Otero Alcántara, must compulsorily serve two-thirds of their sentence in order to be able to apply for parole and, in addition, conform to a “good behavior” that will be evaluated by officials. The instruction also penalizes those who use social networks to “foment crime.”

Alcántara has been in the maximum security prison of Guanajay, in Artemisa, since 11 July 2021, when he was arrested before he could join the massive anti-government protests of that day. The artist was tried along with his friend, the protest rapper Maykel Osorbo Castillo; with the former sentenced to 9 years in prison and the later sentenced to five years of deprivation of liberty.

Amnesty International named him as a prisoner of conscience in May 2021 and has not stopped asking for his release, as the visible head of hundreds currently in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

https://translatingcuba.com/a-cuban-court-alleges-that-otero-alcantara-is-not-ready-for-social-reintegration/

Amnesty International, February 6, 2024

Release artist jailed for protecting freedom of expression

In July 2021, Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara posted a video saying he would be attending a protest in his hometown of Havana. Before he could get there, he was arrested and later sentenced to five years in prison. Take action now to free Luis Manuel.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is a self-taught Black Cuban artist and activist. He loves to paint, dance, and wear bright pink suits. His home in San Isidro, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Havana, is a haven for the community – an open house for people to meet and connect.  

Frustrated by Decree 349, a law seeking to silence critical artists, Luis Manuel became a leader of the San Isidro Movement: a diverse group of artists, journalists, and activists defending the right to freedom of expression whose members were intimidated, surveilled, and detained.

On 2 May 2021, state security officials took Luis Manuel from his home, where he was on hunger strike protesting against the confiscation of his artworks by the authorities. He was taken to a hospital and denied access to the outside world. Upon his release a month later, security officials continued to watch his every move.

On 11 July 2021, Luis Manuel posted a video online, saying he would be taking part in one of the largest demonstrations Cuba had seen in decades. Luis Manuel was arrested before he joined the protest and taken to Guanajay maximum security prison, where he remains. On 24 June 2022, he was sentenced to five years in prison, after a trial behind closed doors. In prison, Luis Manuel’s health is declining and he’s not getting proper medical care. 

Take action and demand the immediate release of Luis Manuel.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/petition/release-artist-jailed-for-protecting-freedom-of-expression/