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Bob Menéndez: “In Cuba singing about freedom makes you an enemy of the State”

The young Cuban artist and opponent Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara “must be released,” said the Democratic senator and leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menéndez.

Otero Alcántara is part of the unspecified number of people who have been detained on the island since last Sunday, after taking to the streets to protest against the government’s performance on the island in the midst of several crises, including the shortage of basic products, the pandemic, the rise in prices of essential services and the lack of freedoms.

On Sunday, July 11, Otero Alcántara was arrested and taken to a prison in Havana known as Vivac. It was later reported that he would be transferred to a maximum security prison in Havana known as the Guanajay prison.

“In Cuba, singing about freedom makes you an enemy of the state. @Mov_sanisidro
Luis Manuel MUST be released, ”Senator Menéndez, of Cuban origin, wrote on his Twitter account.

Some of those arrested on July 11 were questioned and later released with a clear warning not to take to the streets to protest, but many are still in prison as families demand their release.

The economic situation, which has dragged the island for years, together with the impact of the pandemic, were the fuse for protests underlying decades of discontent.

But who is Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara?

Otero Alcántara is one of the founders of the opposition San Isidro Movement, as a group of writers, artists and intellectuals is named who openly dissent from the government led by Miguel Díaz-Canel and the socialist system in force for more than six decades.

Since 2017, the Cuban state security forces have arrested him on many occasions and his house located in a marginal neighborhood of Havana has been under constant surveillance for months. He has also denounced that his work has been seized and has been the subject of interrogations. The island’s state media frequently refer to him as a “counterrevolutionary” and a “mercenary.”

Weeks ago, neighbors gathered around his house to sing the song “Patria y Vida”, which since February has become an anthem that demands political changes on the island. The song was written by several Cubans, among them the Dúo Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, Yotuel Romero. Mykel Osorbo, one of the song’s co-authors, has also been in prison since Sunday on the island.

The title of the song is opposed to the slogan of “Homeland or Death”, the cry that dates back to 1960 and that for decades has been a call from the government to fight against the United States and against the capitalist system.

The organization Amnesty International (AI) described Otero Alcántara as a “prisoner of conscience” last May, when he went on a hunger and thirst strike for seven days in Havana to protest what he classified as state harassment. As a result of that, State security officials took him to a hospital where he was supervised for days and held incommunicado for almost three weeks.

What was your message before you were arrested last Sunday?

What does the San Isidro Movement demand after the arrests?

In several posts on social media, the MSI has told the government that “art is not a crime” and has demanded the release of imprisoned artists.

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