November 30, 2020 at 11:29 am EST | by Maykel González Vivero
A hunger strike in San Isidro, the protest that does not let Havana sleep
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara during a hunger strike in San Isidro (Photo by Katherine Bisquet)

Editor’s Note: Tremenda Nota is the Washington Blade’s partner media in Cuba. This article was posted on Tremenda Nota’s website on Nov. 27.

HAVANA — A group of dissident artists and activists are the protagonists of one of the most acute political crises the Cuban government has experienced so far this century.

After 10 days held up in a house in Old Havana and after a week on hunger strike, activists from the San Isidro Movement (MSI) were forcibly evicted on Thursday night during a major police operation.

This outcome was one of the least likely for an incident that has lasted for a couple of weeks. Harassment and probable hospitalization of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara or Maykel Osorbo, the two group members who also began a thirst strike, was expected. The government, however, used the coronavirus epidemic as an excuse to raid MSI headquarters.

An article that appeared in the official press justified the eviction by saying that journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez, who recently arrived from abroad, had to repeat the COVID-19 test. The reporter met with the strikers after evading police surveillance of the house on Calle Damas between San Isidro and Avenida del Puerto in the oldest area of the capital “dressed as a tourist,” he said.

Upon his arrival, he found 14 people who had been living together for several days in a nearly collapsed building that MSI activists are slowly trying to rebuild. Luis Manuel was very weak at this point in his hunger and thirst strike.

Most of the available sources on dehydration claim that a living thing could live without water for 3 to 5 days. “Cases have been reported of people who managed to survive longer,” says an article on the subject published in 2016. Luis Manuel, apparently, is one of those. He lasted 6 days.

On the afternoon of Nov. 25, the activist announced that he would stop the thirst strike. “Today I woke up wanting to create, wanting to live,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I will continue my fight for the freedom of Denis and all the brothers imprisoned and abused by a declining regime,” he warned in his message.

The activists chose this voluntary confinement after being constantly detained by the police while requesting the release of Denis Solís, a rapper who was sentenced to 8 months in prison for the crime of contempt.

Solís was arrested a few days after insulting a policeman in a Facebook broadcast. “Follow me harassing you so that you can see that you are going to explode. Donald Trump 2020!” He yelled at the policeman. He also used homophobic insults that upset and alienated a part of the organized LGBTI + community in Havana from MSI, although Denis Solís apologized for those offenses in the last video posted on his profile.

The MSI members in their campaign included another demand: The closure of stores that sell basic products in U.S. dollars, a desperate decision by the government to survive the economic crisis the COVID-19 epidemic worsened.

The last reason to go on a hunger strike happened when the police stopped a neighbor who handed them a bag of food. Although the supply was later restored, some of those holed up decided to continue without feeding until Denis Solís was released.

The process against the rapper, as allowed under Cuban law, was summary. In a few days, he was in jail. Several jurists say this type of procedure, although legal in Cuba, does not respect the due process that any accused deserves.

The release of Denis Solís, the point on which the strikers pressed the most, has been problematic for those who think that the rapper did commit contempt.

Additionally, various state-run websites have linked him to suspected terrorists in a video released in the past week. In the images, taken during a police interrogation, Solís admits to having been related to José Luis Fernández Figuera, who is described as “the mastermind of several acts of sabotage in Cuba, circulated by the Cuban authorities since 2017.”

The video presents Figuera as “a member of a terrorist organization that calls itself ‘Lone Wolves.’” However, there is no public information about this terrorist group or about the sabotage attributed to it.

“Lone wolf” is a generic term (the Cuban government has) used in recent decades to refer to individuals who act as terrorists on their own, without affiliation to any organization.

The MSI strikers dismissed these accusations, as did lawyers like Eloy Viera Cañive. “What anyone could consider a confession, is, to me, a for manipulation. Denis Solís was not punished for any crime of being a mercenary, for receiving money, for being radicalized from nowhere, he was punished for a crime of contempt,” said the lawyer in an issue of the digital magazine El Toque.

There is no official or independent version that explains the reasons why the policeman entered Solís’ house. The only public document is the one directly from the accused himself, where he is seen insulting the officer without receiving any reply.

That was the incident that caused the hunger and thirst strike in a house in San Isidro. But things went much further and it has become a focus of non-violent civil rebellion, which generates sympathy and rejection without distinction.

They evicted them and went to the Ministry of Culture

Around 8 p.m. this Thursday, Facebook and Instagram users could not access those social networks from Havana. In the next hour, the besieged and their friends would be violently evicted with no graphic evidence left other than that taken by the police.

After being evicted, the MSI members and the other people who were staying with them were released into their legal homes. There were, however, new arrests during the early hours of this Friday.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara did not agree to stay at Katherine Bisquet’s apartment, as suggested by the authorities who were occupying the strike headquarters in San Isidro at that time. He remained in custody. Anamely Ramos, who was protesting Luis Manuel’s situation, was arrested in front of his building in Centro Habana.

On the afternoon of this Friday, it was learned that Ramos was at the home of activist Omara Ruiz Urquiola, one of the evicted from San Isidro. There is no news about Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. Amnesty International issued a statement calling him a “prisoner of conscience.”

Dozens of artists and activists are still demonstrating at this time (9:30 p.m.) in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana to protest the violent outcome against those besieged in San Isidro.

The organizers of the demonstration that began in the morning and grew to more than 100 people released a document with demands for the government.

“We repudiate, denounce and condemn the inability of government institutions in Cuba to dialogue and recognize dissent, activist autonomy, empowerment of minorities and respect for human and citizen rights,” the document says.

“In solidarity with our brothers of the San Isidro Movement, we demand that justice not be exercised at discretion,” it also notes, and later asks the government to “eliminate political hatred and create real and effective systems from which the demands of citizens are heard. establishing guarantees for an unbiased and honest dialogue that does not have reprisals for those who raise their voices.”

At the end of this article, 30 of the protesters were admitted to the Ministry of Culture to present their demands to Deputy Minister Fernando Rojas, according to various sources at the protest.

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