Two Cuban artists receive harsh sentences for "insulting the state"

A court in Havana, Cuba, sentenced artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, and rapper Michael Castillo Perez to five and nine years in prison, respectively, for “contempt, an insult to the state, and public disorder.”

Human rights groups called the allegations fabricated and arbitrary and said the Cuban government was retaliating for the artists’ participation in protests against the island’s declining standard of living in the country in 2021.

Otero Alcantara, the founder of the San Isidro dissident movement, has been held in Guanahai’s maximum-security prison since last summer when Cuba’s biggest anti-government protests erupted in decades. Rapper Michael “Osorbo” Perez is a member of the same movement, as his song “Homeland and Life” (Patria y Vida) became the anthem of the protests for the “liberation of Cuba”.

The two are just a small fraction of the nearly 500 people convicted last week of participating in last year’s demonstration called 11J, some of whom have been sentenced to up to 30 years in prison, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Otero Alcantara and Perez are part of a group of active defenders of the freedom of the island’s artists, who face relentless persecution, harassment, and imprisonment for peacefully expressing their disagreement with the authorities. Last May, Cuban police raided Otero Alcantara’s house and studio and seized several works of art.

The police action provoked the artist to go on a hunger and thirst strike, one of many he has undertaken, each more exhausting than the previous one. He was then forcibly hospitalized by Cuban state security agents, which other members of the San Isidro dissident movement described as a “kidnapping,” and dozens of Cuban artists and artists called for his release.

Alcantara was then briefly released only to be arrested a few weeks later, at the start of protests in Havana, along with hundreds of other anti-government protesters. The artist was urged by the authorities to leave the country permanently in exchange for his release, a strategy commonly used by the Cuban government to drive away critical voices.

However, in a letter written by the prison before the trial against him last month, Otero Alcantara rejected the offer and explained his decision to stay in Cuba.

“So many people I love are now living in exile, unable to return because the dictatorship is preventing them from doing so,” he said. “The regime has destroyed my works of art and violated my rights and the rights of my friends in so many ways. Despite everything, despite the pressure, even though there are so many people in prison at the moment, I will continue to move forward from here.”

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