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Cuban dissident artist hospitalized during hunger strike

May 3, 2021

Members of the San Isidro protest movement have expressed concern after Luis Manuel Otero Alcantar was forcibly hospitalized. The US and EU have spoken out too.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara
Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara began a hunger strike after police destroyed and seized some of his worksImage: Alexandre Meneghini/REUTERS

Artist and protest movement leader Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara was taken to the hospital by Cuban authorities on Sunday as he entered the eighth day of his hunger strike, the San Isidro protest movement (MSI) said.

Havana's public health department said that the 33-year-old artist had been brought to the General Calixto Garcia university hospital emergency unit with symptoms of "voluntary starvation."

Otero Alcantara started his hunger strike when government authorities seized some of his artwork after arresting him during a protest last month.

MSI is a movement of artists and intellectuals pushing for free speech and further rights. The communist government of Cuba has accused the protesters of being funded by the US.

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What did the San Isidro Movement say in response?

The MSI said in a statement that Otero Alcantara had been taken by force and that the official medical report from the hospital was "confusing and contradictory."

A statement from the health authority had said, after first reporting symptoms of starvation, that the medical examination showed that "starvation does not correspond with the parameters of the patient," and there "was hydration and food."

US liberties watchdog Freedom House tweeted in support of Otero Alcantara, saying: "We are outraged by the illegal detention of Otero Alcantara by the state security forces on the early morning of May 2. On his eighth day of hunger and thirst strike, Otero Alcantara was taken to a hospital, according to government information. Freedom House requests evidence of his physical well-being."

How did the US and EU respond?

Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the US State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, called on the Cuban government "to take immediate steps to protect his life and health."

The EU's delegation in Cuba responded to the news on Facebook, saying: "The European Union and all its member states have followed Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara's hunger and thirst strike with concern, we have shared this concern with our Cuban friends and now we hope that he will soon recover his health and can enjoy his rights as a citizen and as an artist."

The performance artist had been arrested several times for trying to leave his home after it was surrounded by police.

Authorities had also cut off his internet and denied access to him by friends and priests during his hunger strike.

ab/msh (AFP, epd, EFE)