Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. The text reads” “I don’t want to die, I just want to go home.” (photo by Leandro Feal, design by Marco Castillo)

Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been jailed at Guanajay, a maximum-security penitentiary 25 miles west of Havana, since July of 2021. He will face court on May 30 on charges including disorderly conduct, disrespecting authorities, and “inciting to commit a crime” for encouraging people to join a protest via Facebook. The Cuban Public Prosector’s Office has asked to sentence the artist to seven years in prison. Otero Alcántara has been through two hunger strikes in prison, the last of which caused him to suffer temporary paralysis. He has also received awards from Freedom House and the Oxi Day Foundation and was named one of Time Magazine‘s most influential people of 2021. Recently, he had a solo exhibition of his drawings in Miami. Until now, Otero Alcántara had not issued any public statements. He finally issued one last week. His statement is included here in full, translated from a transcription of an audio message that he delivered by phone from prison.

Statement by Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Sent from the Maximum-Security Prison of Guanajay, Cuba.
Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
12:59 pm

Hello to all. I, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, speak to you from the nasty Guanajay Prison. As far as I can tell, my health is okay.

First of all, I want to express my condolences for the victims of the Saratoga Hotel explosion. I was deeply affected when I received news of this. It was extremely difficult, and I felt helpless due to my confinement. 

I want to give a million thanks to all the enlightened people and institutions that have been concerned with securing my freedom and that of all political prisoners, which is part of the process of securing freedom for Cuba. 

Soon it will be one year since the last peaceful and unprecedented mobilization of the Cuban people in pursuit of their freedom. During the last year, I have not expressed how proud I am to be Cuban and how proud I am of our people inside and outside the Island. I am sure that freedom will come very, very soon. 

I want to apologize for not having spoken publicly in a long time. I wanted to give myself some time in this very unpleasant place to ensure that my words would be meaningful. 

First, I will tell you I am an artist and a human being struggling to get out of this unjust prison, but every day my love of free and honest art grows firmer. Each day, I grow firmer in my love for what is human and in my love for Cuba. 

I want to apologize to those who are worried about my hunger strikes. These are visceral reactions provoked by the aberrant dictatorship. But luckily, up to now I have found spiritual answers within myself that allow me to be reborn.

During all these months the regime has offered me exile from Cuba as the only way out of prison. Otherwise, I will have to serve seven years in prison. 

I will say this: For so many years, I have endured, as have many of my friends, inhuman persecution, and repression by the Cuban regime. 

It has been impossible for me to spend birthdays with my son. He was born on December 10, which is International Human Rights Day, a day when authorities intensify policing efforts to avoid public protests. It has been impossible for me to spend birthdays with him because I have been forbidden to leave my home on that day by Cuban authorities. 

My mother died and my grandmother died without me being able to spend the time I desired with them. 

My family and friends have lived in terror, literally. 

So many people I love now live in exile, without the possibility of returning because a dictatorship prevents them from doing so.

The regime has destroyed my artwork and violated my rights and the rights of my friends in so many other ways.

And we have endured all this and more in pursuit of a dream. We endured this out of a sense of responsibility toward the Cuba of today and tomorrow. 

None of this has succeeded in extinguishing our dreams.

Today I dream that all Cubans of the world of any political persuasion will gather at the Malecon to work together toward a solution to the dictatorship so that no Cuban who thinks differently or espouses different political views will have to suffer mistreatment, persecution, or imprisonment. 

In the country I dream of, the children of Cuba will not have to emigrate and will be able to fulfill their goals on the island or return whenever they wish. 

I dream of a free event in the Civic Plaza. A cultural event where we sing Patria y Vida and so many other songs that are forbidden in today’s Cuba. 

I dream that no Cuban will be the enemy of any other Cuban. 

Today for these dreams I am ready to sacrifice the artist’s flesh, my artist’s flesh, and my freedom-loving spirit. 

Today our art and we ourselves have become the voice and example for the many whose voices have been silenced, whose hopes and dreams of freedom have been destroyed by the dictatorship.  

There are many whose roots have been erased, many who have even been erased as human beings. 

I believe that all Cubans should join together to support those Cubans for whom it has been impossible to escape from this dungeon of an Island. 

I want to teach my son to fight for his ideas, for love, for a dream, and for his dreams, in spite of everything. 

In parting, I want to ask you all not to lose faith that good, truth and freedom will prevail. 

I want to ask you to support free art, and to support my art, wherever I am. 

Do not leave me alone. Let us not leave the course of Cuba in the hands of a dictator or the course of destiny. 

Let us support the San Isidro Movement and its philosophy, which is far from dead. Wherever each one of the members is, wherever there are people that identify with San Isidro, with the San Isidro Movement, with that philosophy of art, freedom and prosperity, the movement will be alive. 

For my part, as long as music gives me strength, even if they stick me in the most hidden dungeon of Guantánamo or under a stone, I will look for a way for my art to reach you and continue staking my bet on freedom.

These are not the words of a macho man who is stuck on playing the tough guy, the invincible one who can do anything. On the contrary, I am a vulnerable guy, but, above all, I am an artist who dreams of his homeland and of life and who remains connected to all of you. 

Thank you all for listening to me, thank you for everything really, to my friends, to the people I love and care about. We are all “super-connected”. And though I am here, I am ready for anything. 

Thanks for the awards, thanks to all the institutions, really. Thank you all.

My message to the Cuban people is that freedom is coming soon, that I’m really charged up, and that freedom will come as soon as possible, you’ll see.

In spite of everything, in spite of the pressure, in spite of the fact that right now there are a lot of people in jail, it was my turn to be here and from here I will continue to move forward. 

We are super-connected. I send a kiss to all.

Patria y Vida.  

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

Coco Fusco is an artist and writer and professor of art at The Cooper Union.