Cuban Artist Under House Arrest Begins Hunger and Thirst Strike
Officials have repeatedly targeted Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara for his work and for speaking out against Cuba's government
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(New York, NY) — Independent Cuban artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara announced that he would begin a hunger and thirst strike this week after being placed under de facto house arrest. In a statement today, PEN America condemned the Cuban government’s ongoing harassment of Otero Alcántara and said it was part of an ongoing campaign to restrict artistic freedom of expression on the island.
On April 16, police raided Otero Alcántara’s apartment and reportedly seized multiple works of art before taking him without a warrant to an unknown location overnight. Following his release, he had planned to protest the repeated persecution he and other independent artists have faced in recent months at the parliament building in Havana, but officials blocked his movements, reportedly throwing him in jail every time he attempted to leave his apartment. Authorities have reportedly cut off his internet access, and police have surrounded his apartment, preventing anyone from entering. On Sunday, Otero Alcántara announced his hunger and thirst strike, intended as an act of protest against the seizure of his works and the ongoing persecution of artists.
“Once again, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s life and livelihood is in grave danger because of Cuban authorities’ incessant disregard for freedom of expression and basic human decency,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Otero Alcántara has been targeted time and time again for his peaceful expression. This hunger strike is clearly an act of last resort, to decry all that he has undergone: unjust surveillance, house arrest, imprisonment, and destruction of his works. Artists should not have to put their health and well-being on the line simply to stand up for their right to express themselves. We call on Cuban authorities to immediately cease their campaign of harassment against Otero Alcántara before his health situation grows any more dire.”
Since 2017, Otero Alcántara has faced arrest on numerous occasions for his outspoken criticism of the Cuban government. His persecution is part of a broader crackdown on artistic expression in Cuba that began in the wake of Decree 349, a 2018 regulation that gives the government-wide purview to restrict the cultural sphere. Artists, writers, and activists have faced particularly heightened dangers in Cuba in recent months. Following the unjust arrest and sentencing of rapper Denis Solís Gonzalez last November, protestors in the San Isidro Movement, which Otero Alcántara helps lead, and the 27N Movement, have faced a wave of brutal crackdowns.
PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently released A Safety Guide For Artists, a resource that offers practical strategies to help artists understand, navigate, and overcome risk, and features an interview with Cuban artist Tania Bruguera about the state of free expression on the island. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.