Cuban dissident artist hospitalised amid hunger strike

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, a leader of the San Isidro movement, went on hunger strike to protest against the seizure of his art.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara is in stable condition in a hospital in the Cuban capital Havana, health authorities said on Sunday [File: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters]

A leading Cuban dissident artist has been hospitalised after spending one week on a hunger strike in protest of the government’s seizure of his art, with health authorities in the capital Havana saying he is in stable condition.

The Havana public health department said on Sunday that 33-year-old Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, a leader of the San Isidro protest movement (MSI), had been taken to General Calixto Garcia University Hospital.

The department said he showed symptoms of “voluntary starvation”, but he was stable and being attended to by physicians.

Several of Otero Alcantara’s works were seized when he was arrested earlier this month during a protest action. Sunday marked the eighth day of his hunger strike.

Members of MSI, a group of artists and activists demanding free speech and greater liberties, said state security had forced Otero Alcantara from his home and that he was in custody, presumably at the hospital.

Young artists protest in front of the doors of the Ministry of Culture in Havana in November last year after police evicted protesters who had participated in a hunger strike [File: Ismael Francisco/AP Photo]

They questioned the report and demanded more information. “How is it possible he has no signs of malnutrition or dehydration after being on a hunger and thirst strike for more than 7 days?” the group said on Twitter.

Otero Alcantara’s home had been surrounded by police for days with no one allowed in or out during his hunger strike.

“Luis Manuel can no longer stay upright, his skin and mouth is parched, he does not urinate or speak. He has an inflamed throat,” fellow MSI member Amaury Pacheco, a poet, said on Twitter Saturday.

That same day, US State Department official Julie Chung raised concerns about Otero Alcantara’s condition and urged the Cuban government “to take immediate steps to protect his life and health”.

The US Embassy in Cuba said on Sunday that Otero Alcantara, like all Cubans, “deserves to be treated with dignity and respect”.

“We have seen reports that he is hospitalised and his condition is stable. We urge the authorities to protect his well-being at this difficult time,” the embassy tweeted.

MSI members led rare public protests and a hunger strike in November to demand more freedom of speech and an end to harassment by the Cuban authorities.

The Cuban government accuses Otero Alcantara and other members of MSI of political revolt funded by the United States.

PEN America, a US-based group that supports freedom of expression worldwide, came out in support of Otero Alcantara on April 26, accusing the Cuban government of harassing him as part of a campaign to restrict artistic expression.

“Once again, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara’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 project at PEN America.

“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 wellbeing on the line simply to stand up for their right to express themselves.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies