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“May my death be the continuity to the spark for the freedom of Cuba.” One of the last messages shared on the Facebook page of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, independent artist and leader of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), gives a measure of the epic battle for freedom that a group of young Cubans is waging in the streets of the island.
On April 25, Otero Alcántara went on a hunger strike to protest the Cuban government’s violation of constitutional rights, as the communist regime continues to open criminal cases, impose forced house arrests, and psychological torture on its citizens.
Panicked and nervous about the scope of Otero Alcántara’s protest — as it had already done with Orlando Zapata and Coco Farinas — the regime in Havana immediately orchestrated a campaign to discredit the activist.
In the early hours of this past Sunday morning, State Security officers raided the artist’s home in Old Havana, forcibly removing him and transferring him to an unknown location.
Immediately, the Public Health authorities published an ambiguous note stating that Otero Alcantara was admitted to a hospital where he arrived with no signs of malnutrition. State Security currently holds total control over all aspects of his life.
Instead of opening the corresponding investigation to clarify what happened, the official media have sponsored a smear operation against the rebellious artist, echoing a video broadcast by state television together with a statement in which the Cuban government affirms that Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was not on hunger and thirst strike, based on medical analyses of dubious scientific accreditation.
Knowing the hooks usually used by the regime’s intelligence apparatus, Otero Alcántara could have received assurances that it was safe to visit the hospital for medical attention. From there, anything could have happened to permanently silence the activist.
The official media and organizations in Cuba that present Otero Alcántara as a puppet of the West or as an enemy agent seeking to destabilize the country, released a strange video on Tuesday. In this video, the Cuban artist, visibly excited and insecure, comments that “the medical attention, the medical staff, has been spectacular, beyond the fact that I could be demanding my rights as an artist.”
Otero Alcántara’s supporters demand transparency from the authorities about his current health while demanding that he be unconditionally released as soon as possible. Otero Alcántara remains with no Internet access and has barely been able to make independent statements since he was hospitalized.
It is not the first time that the regime prepares a media circus of these characteristics. As Lenin said, terror, especially exercised against the innocent, is the most effective way to encourage collective obedience. The Cuban repressive apparatus is an expert in manipulating and blaming the United States and Cuban exiles in Miami for being behind these activists, whom they label as “mercenaries” paid by the CIA.
The Biden administration partially expressed its concern on Saturday, through Acting Assistant Secretary for the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung
The United States is extremely concerned about the welfare of Cuban activist @LMOAlcantara and urges the Cuban government to take immediate steps to protect his life and health.
— Julie Chung (@WHAAsstSecty) May 1, 2021
But Biden, through Juan Gonzalez, National Security Advisor, sent friendly signals to Diaz Canel a few days ago by assuring the Castro hitman of the U.S. government’s willingness to “dialogue with the Cubans,” with whom “we have diplomatic relations with Cuba at this time,” even when Otero Alcantara’s life and whereabouts have become a huge uncertainty.
Freedom or dictatorship
Have Biden and the Democratic Party, now in power, forgotten the repressive strategy of a tyranny that has been humiliating its people for more than 60 years? The Castro’s and their front men believe they are the absolute owners of the life and death of all Cubans, eliminating the slightest glimmer of freedom and hope.
And those who, like Luis Manuel, try to evade or confront the repressive machinery of the regime are persecuted, imprisoned, dispersed, infiltrated, discredited, and then murdered or resurrected according to their degree of servility or abjection to the regime. Repression is the fundamental method of control to maintain total command in the hands of Castroism. Their level of compassion is inversely proportional to any request for freedom and justice.
Castro and his henchmen gained power with blood on their hands and maintain it by killing. Their mafia codes are incompatible with the values of the rule of law and a democratic and civilized government.
The conflict between freedom and dictatorship is taking place today in many countries under the tutelage of communist regimes. And the most moving aspect of this challenge is the integrity and courage of people like Otero Alcántara, Maykel Osorbo, Iliana Hernández, Katherine Bisquet, or Esteban Rodríguez — just to name a few — who risk their lives every day in defense of democracy and respect for the rights of their people.
The real reason for the kidnapping of Otero Alcántara is to silence him. His personal bravery is as remarkable as the fear of Raul Castro and the henchmen of his leadership.
Like so many unpopular dictatorships in recent history that have suffered the impetuous awakening of their peoples, Havana could take good note of the fact that too much abuse of its respected and peaceful opponents could bring unintended consequences. There are recent examples of Joshua Wong in Hong Kong and Alexei Navalny in Russia.
The helplessness suffered by Cuban dissidents is unprecedented in the West, and every violation of rights that comes to the attention of the international community surpasses the most elementary rules of human rights because of its impunity and violation.
From the activist’s closest environment, an anguished concern has been raised that Otero Alcántara’s health has seriously deteriorated during the days of the strike. For obvious reasons, the Cuban activist’s condition cannot be independently verified.
Raul Castro, Diaz Canel, and their henchmen are from now on directly responsible for whatever happens to this brave freedom activist, who has become the nemesis of a bloody and finished dictatorship.
The Castro’s old fox should understand that letting Luis Manuel die now in Cuban sanitary prisons would definitively condemn the totalitarian nature of the island’s communist dictatorship.
In the midst of contradictory versions about Otero Alcántara’s health condition, if his life were in danger, there is no doubt about who is responsible for his death and the high price they will have to pay for it.
The enormous outpouring of solidarity with Luis Manuel starting with the European Union, the OAS, and a huge list of countries, leaves no doubt about the generalized opinion in the international community regarding the extreme gravity of the situation in Cuba, a country on the verge of a civil war.
In my opinion, it seems a debased attitude that Spain was not on the front line, supporting the brave Cuban activist in these difficult moments, which says a lot about the unworthy commitment of the President of the Government with his political partners, ideological heirs of Castro’s communism.
As a result of these recent events, enlightening political reflections can also be drawn from them.
Could the Castro regime be creating the conditions to negotiate an eventual salvation miracle for Otero Alcántara, in exchange for the United States and the EU relaxing the sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship? Nothing can be ruled out.
What is very likely is that the manipulation of the Cuban dissident’s state of health may help to raise awareness of the growing dangers facing dissidents in Cuba.
In the umpteenth consecutive year of declining freedom under the Castro dictatorship, ignoring Otero Alcantara’s case will be bad news for democracies around the world.
The press and the international community should be more forceful than ever in demanding an independent investigation to clarify the facts surrounding the hospital abduction of the Cuban activist and not accept the official version.
The patience of the Cuban people, sapped by decades of frustrated expectations, may run out.
Juan Carlos Sánchez, journalist and writer. His columns are published in different newspapers in Spain and the United States. He is the author of several books and is preparing the essay "Nación y libertad en el pensamiento económico del Conde Pozos Dulces" // Juan Carlos es periodista y escritor. Sus columnas se publican en diferentes diarios de España y EE.UU. Autor de varios libros, tiene en preparación la obra de ensayo “Nación y libertad en el pensamiento económico del Conde Pozos Dulces”