Cuba: ‘I brought all of Otero Alcantara’s work to the United States’

The last time Genlui saw Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in prison, the artist told her she “was being a type of crutch for the regime” and that he needed her “free, out, healthy, and safe”. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, November 3, 2021–Art curator, Claudia Genlui, a member of Movimiento San Isidro (MSI), arrived Tuesday in Miami for an indefinite period, although she assures that her motives are personal. State Security was with her in the airport “the entire time” until the moment she boarded the plane.

“There is something important that I would like to make clear: I am not exiling myself from Cuba. I will never accept that that the State Security wants to definitively remove Luis Manuel [Otero Alcántara] and Maykel [Castillo Osorbo] from Cuba, those words: definitively, exile, expatriation, do not exist for me. I will not tolerate those words for them, nor will I tolerate them for any of us. I will return to Cuba, I do not know if it will be within 15 days, within a month, I don’t know, I only know that I will return,” recounted the activist to 14ymedio during a layover in Mexico.

Genlui maintains that one of the reasons which took her to Miami was the need to be with her mother, who is sick with cancer. In addition, she says that Otero Alcántara asked her to take care of some matters related to his work. “I was able to take all of Luisma’s work. I was loaded, but that did not cause any setbacks,” she said, relieved.

The last time the curator saw Otero Alcántara in prison, she recalled, the artist told her she “was being a type of crutch for the regime” and that he needed her “free, out, healthy, and safe.

“For me, it was one of the most difficult moments because unwittingly I grasp on to him and all the emotion and all the feelings that bind me to him, beyond being partners in this struggle,” she confessed.

The activist believes there is a need to “normalize the idea of entering and exiting Cuba” and signaled that at the moment there are many things to do beyond paying attention to whether she is exiting the country or not. “One thing I’ve had to accept has been that migrations leave a bitter taste, such a strong pain…It’s an issue that one carries inside and is incapable of even speaking it. What I am most certain of is that I will return,” she reiterated.

Claudia Genlui has been persecuted by the regime since she was fired in December 2019 from the Office of the Historian of Havana, where she was an official. The curator presented an independent art conference at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Cuba and, days later, was notified of her expulsion.

The Office of the Historian reproached Genlui for concealing her participation in the event after circulars were distributed on November 30th stating that any employee in her situation should notify their supervisor of upcoming contacts with an embassy.

The historian asserted that the activity was outside of working hours, for which she should not be held accountable. Furthermore, she said at the time, the Ministry of Foreign Relations (Minrex) was aware of the facts, given that the Czech diplomatic mission notified them of the celebration and the ministry’s only condition was that the Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara workshop not take place.

It was useless to appeal a decision that, in the end, was not reversed. That was the beginning of a path filled with obstacles for the curator, for whom life became more complicated each time she participated in the Movimiento San Isidro hunger strike demanding the release of Denis Solís, the artist’s protests in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020, and the protests of July 11 throughout the country.

Lately, her activism and her role as spokesperson for Otero Alcántra have melded. Although she barely maintains contact with the artist, jailed since July 11th, she has been his voice on the street these months. The last time she was able to see him was on October 21.

The curator explained in great detail her encounter with Otero Alcántara in El Estornudo magazine, offering a first-person account of the difficulties she faced, as she is not a family member, to be able to enter the maximum-security prison of Guanajay, where the MSI leader is being held.

It was expected that Otero Alcántara would leave the Island as a result of negotiations announced by Tania Bruguera, in line with those that resulted in the exit of artists Hamlet Lavastida and Katherine Bisquet, who traveled to Poland after being released from prison in exchange for expatriation.

Bruguera had already announced on various occasions that neither Otero Alcántara nor Maykel Castillo Osorbo was likely to accept their release in exchange for abandoning the country.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.