Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been on a hunger and thirst strike for seven days, was forcibly hospitalized by state police in the capital city of Havana on Sunday morning, activists told Hyperallergic. Alcántara, a leader of the dissident San Isidro Movement (SIM), is an outspoken advocate for creative freedom on the island. He began his strike after security forces raided his house and studio in late April, allegedly confiscating several artworks and detaining the artist.
“He didn’t ask to be taken from his house, he didn’t ask to receive medical attention from the Cuban public health system. This is a kidnapping,” Camila Ramón, one of four members of SIM based in Miami, told Hyperallergic in an interview. “His demands were clear: for his art to be returned, for the police siege of his home to end, and for the government to respect freedom of creation.”
Most of the works taken from Alcántara belong to his Caramelos sin saliva (“Candy Without Saliva”) series, which are symbolic paintings of candy wrappers decrying poverty and scarcity through Cuban children’s want of sweets. “Garrote Vil,” a sculpture imitating a strangulation device that the artist has used in several performance pieces, was also seized.
“Most alarming right now is the lack of any news about him,” said Ramón. “The movement’s campaign is now focused on demanding proof of life.” The hospital, Calixto García in the Vedado neighborhood, has issued conflicting reports of the artist’s health, and friends and family have not been allowed to visit or contact him, she adds. Cuban police has besieged the homes of several other activists on the island, including San Isidro members Amaury Pacheco and Iris Ruiz, and photographer Javier Caso recently announced a hunger strike in solidarity with Alcántara.
“I believing the dictatorship is employing a policy of isolation. They saw the power social media can have, and they won’t allow another 27N,” Ramón added, referring to a sit-in held outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana on November 27, 2020. Convened to protest the arbitrary arrest of Denis Solís, a young Cuban rapper jailed for insulting a police officer, the demonstration made international headlines.
The Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.