PEN America Issues Urgent Call to Release Hunger Striking Cuban Artist
Protesting his own imprisonment as well as Cuba's broader crackdown on artistic expression, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara's health is now quickly deteriorating
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — PEN America and PEN International today issued their pressing concern over the health of imprisoned Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been undergoing a hunger strike since September 27. Protesting his own imprisonment as well as Cuba’s broader crackdown on artistic expression, Otero Alcántara’s health is now quickly deteriorating. PEN America and PEN International urge Cuban authorities to immediately discharge Otero Alcántara without making his permanent departure from the island a condition of his release.
“Nine days into his hunger strike, Otero Alcántara’s health and body are on the line, and we are extremely concerned for him and fear for his life. He has made this sacrifice because it is the only tool of protest left for him. The Cuban authorities have denied him his voice, his fundamental rights, and his freedom,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Their refusal to release him unless he leaves the country shows that the government does not believe that his life holds any value and that there is no place in Cuban society for independent thought or protest. PEN America, along with human rights organizations around the world, will not cease to raise their voices on behalf of the Cuban artists whose own voices have been cruelly silenced. We call on the Cuban government to release Otero Alcántara immediately and drop the charges against him—without forcing him to leave Cuba, his island and his home. His life depends on it.”
“The situation of artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is alarming, illegal, and cruel in every way. He has been detained since July and his only crime—which, of course, is not a crime at all—was to exercise his right to freedom of expression and artistic freedom,” said Claudia Genlui Hildalgo Moreno, an art curator and Otera Alcántara’s partner. “Since September 27, Luis Manuel has assumed the sacrifice of his body. He started a hunger strike to protest the violence and injustice to which he has been subjected. His life is in danger and his body is deteriorating every day. Luis Manuel had only just recovered from a severe case of COVID-19 when he began the hunger strike, and his health was already weakened from previous hunger and thirst strikes—a measure of the many months of repression and harassment that the Cuban government has mercilessly subjected him to. They are responsible for this devastating violence against Luis Manuel. The life of a human being, an artist, a friend, a family member, is falling apart in their hands.”
Otero Alcántara is a leader of the San Isidro movement, a collective of Cuban artists, journalists, and intellectuals, and co-author of the viral song “Patria y Vida,” which became an anthem of the mass protests across the island in late July. On September 15, Otero Alcántara was included in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 list, with an entry written by artist Ai Wei Wei. On September 28,the song “Patria y Vida” was nominated for “Best Song of the Year” at the Latin Grammy Awards.
Otero Alcántara began his hunger strike since late September in the maximum-security prison of Guanajay, where he has remained imprisoned after being detained on July 11. On September 6, the Cuban Prosecutor’s Office charged him with the crimes of public disorder, contempt and instigation to commit a crime. Otero Alcántara began his hunger strike soon after recovering from COVID-19. The Cuban authorities have stated that they will allow his release only if he immediately leaves the island for an unknown amount of time.
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.
**PEN America experts are available for interviews in English and Spanish. // Los expertos de PEN América están disponibles para entrevistas en inglés y español.**