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Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested last Sunday, March 1 before he could attend an anti-censorship protest convened by the local LGBTQ+ community. According to a statement released by the activist group San Isidro Movement, Otero Alcántara was detained outside his house in Havana around 2:30pm and remains in police custody at the Vivac processing center in the outskirts of the city.
Otero Alcántara’s girlfriend, Claudia Genlui, was thrown to the floor and hit by a policewoman as she attempted to record the arrest on her cell phone. The San Isidro Movement says law enforcement proceeded to confiscate Genlui’s phone.
“We view this as an act of theft by state security and the national police,” reads the collective’s statement. “We note that the use of unnecessary repressive force and physical abuse of helpless citizens and the course of policing procedures should be regarded as forms of state terrorism.”
“This time it happened to Luis, but it could happen to any of us,” said Genlui in a live video on Facebook. “Let’s show solidarity and share what happened, whether it’s online or wherever we can. We want a different Cuba, a better Cuba for all of us, where all our liberties are respected.”
Although the official charges against Otero Alcántara are of property damage, San Isidro Movement believes police wanted to prohibit him from attending a besada (“kiss-in”) in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television’s headquarters. Organized by LGBTQ+ activists, the public event protested the Institute’s choice to cut a scene featuring two men kissing from their broadcast of the film Love, Simon.
Otero Alcántara, whose practice is openly political, has been a frequent target of a government-sponsored campaign to curtail artistic freedom in the island over the last two years. Since the passing of Decree 349 in 2018, a law that grants the state unlimited control over artistic and cultural activity in Cuba, Otero Alcántara has been detained for days at a time, beaten by police officers, and charged with offenses ranging from misuse of patriotic symbols to “desacato” (“disrespect”) toward the president.
“Apparently, those charges do not carry enough weight, and therefore the state has fabricated a criminal charge against him,” explained San Isidro Movement.
Otero Alcántara’s arrest coincides with another recent instance of censorship in the Cuban film community. Last month, the Cuban Institute of Art of Cinematographic Industry (ICAIC) chose not to show Sueños al pairo, a documentary about the exiled Cuban composer Mike Porcel, in its upcoming annual Youth Filmmakers Exhibition. Three of the show’s participants —Daniela Muñoz Barroso, Regis Guedes, and Carla Valdés León — withdrew their works in solidarity with Sueños al pairo co-directors José Luis Aparicio Ferrera and Fernando Fraguela Fosad. Following backlash, ICAIC issued a press release announcing it would postpone the show altogether.
Otero Alcántara is scheduled to face a summary trial within the next ten days.
“The San Isidro Movement has already begun a campaign to free Luis Manuel and uphold the civil rights of all Cuban[s],” read the group’s statement. “We will be in the streets and in the courts, and we will be raising our voices against injustice.”