Cuban activist’s hunger strike hits a nerve in and outside island as social tensions mount

A Cuban dissident’s hunger strike is drawing worldwide consideration as artists on the island proceed to push for better freedoms, placing the federal government on the defensive after activists mentioned he was forcibly faraway from his residence and hospitalized however hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

The United States, the European Union and the Organization of American States, amongst others, have expressed concern about Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s well being, a lot to the ire of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

“It is very shameful to see this concern in the officials of the most powerful nation in the world which viciously condemns more than 11 million Cuban men and women to hunger and scarcity,” Diaz-Canel tweeted on Monday, responding to a assertion from a high-ranking U.S. State Department official.

Cuban well being authorities mentioned Sunday on Twitter that the chief of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists protesting against political repression on the island, had been taken to a hospital in Havana as a consequence of “voluntary starvation,” however that he didn’t present any indicators of malnutrition and was strolling with no problem.

Activists questioned the official assertion about his well being and relations mentioned they’ve been denied entry to him. They demanded proof that he’s alive amid issues that the authoritarian regime would possibly step up harassment of human-rights activists on the island.

“We demand proof of life!” the San Isidro Movement wrote on Twitter. “The Cuban government was capable of committing this flagrant violation of his human rights.”

While different Cuban activists have gone on hunger strikes in the previous 12 months to protest the regime’s elevated monitoring and repression of dissidents, Otero Alcántara’s case seems to have struck a nerve amongst officers in and outside Cuba. It comes as the island grapples with a extreme financial disaster, mounting social tensions and a generational management transition following Raúl Castro’s retirement in April.

Julie Chung, performing assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, mentioned on Saturday the U.S. is “extremely concerned about the welfare” of the activist, and urged the Cuban authorities “to take immediate steps to protect his life and health.”

Otero Alcántara started his hunger strike on April 25 to protest a police raid in which his art work was confiscated and a few of it destroyed at his residence in the San Isidro neighborhood, in response to a video that he shared on social media. The artist needed the return of his works or a compensation of $500,000 that will be used to restore properties in the neighborhood. He additionally demanded an apology from the authorities, the elimination of a police fence round his home and the elimination of a state surveillance digital camera dealing with his entrance door.

The strike additionally adopted a raid in mid-April in which the artist was positioned underneath home arrest and repeatedly detained whereas attempting to go away his residence, which was surrounded by police, in response to the motion.

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Cuban tv tried to discredit the strike by broadcasting alleged outcomes of Otero Alcántara’s medical exams and blood work that confirmed regular parameters. Memes on Twitter made enjoyable of the artist’s hemoglobin rely of 16.eight grams per deciliter of blood, thought-about regular for an grownup male.

The U.S. Embassy in Cuba pleaded for respect in a submit on Twitter: “Like all Cubans, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara must be treated with dignity and respect. We have seen reports that he is in hospital and that his state is stable. We urge the authorities to protect his well being in this difficult moment.”

The European Union delegation to Cuba additionally voiced 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.”

By late Monday, there was no replace on his state.

Otero Alcántara’s dramatic protest comes lower than six months after another hunger strike by activists and academics led to a uncommon protest in Havana in which lots of gathered outside the Ministry of Culture.

The island is struggling as authorities push via painful financial reforms which have despatched inflation hovering. Long traces for meals and primary requirements have develop into a part of the routine for many Cubans. Trump-era sanctions have lowered entry to very important financial lifelines like remittances. Even the COVID-19 pandemic, which appeared to be underneath management throughout a lot of 2020, seems to be a rising risk as case and loss of life numbers proceed to rise.

It’s no shock that Cuba’s nascent however more and more vocal social motion is channeling mounting frustration via social media, however it’s not clear but whether or not Otero Alcántara’s hunger strike will ignite the momentum wanted for a actual transformation, mentioned Ric Herrero, govt director of the Cuba Study Group.

“There are a lot of Cubans protesting, but it’s mostly a disjointed movement. There is no leadership, no common vision. There is a lot of energy but it’s not being directed to one single objective,” he mentioned.

Moreover, the Biden administration has mentioned that Cuba will not be a precedence for U.S. international coverage now, he famous. And in Cuba, management is extra involved with asserting its energy amid the management change, with the newly-appointed Díaz-Canel on the helm of the Communist Party.

“We’re probably just going to see a continuing downward spiral into chaos and more chaos and repression,” Herrero mentioned.

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