In Havana, It is Not Two Men Who Are Judged, But a Symbol

Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo in Havana, when they were still free. (Anamely Ramos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, 31 May 2022 — The last Monday of May dawned cloudy and humid in Havana. However, it was not the possibility of a shower or the difficulties of getting around in a city paralyzed by the fuel crisis that were the main features of the day. In the Court of Marianao, a neighborhood in the western part of the Cuban capital, a trial is taking place that thousands of eyes are watching. The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the rapper Maykel Castillo Osorbo are the accused.

Although in recent months oral hearings against those who participated in the popular demonstrations of last July, or to sentence citizens who show their disagreement on social networks have become common, this week’s process marks a climax of repression in the country. Otero Alcántara is being tried, among other crimes, for placing the Cuban flag on his body for days, in an artistic action that has annoyed a ruling party that hijacked the national emblems for its particular ideological and partisan crusade.

For his part, Osorbo is blamed for having insulted the figure of the ruler Miguel Díaz-Canel and for holding Prime Minister Manuel Marrero responsible for the lack of supplies in hospitals. Both accusations, with a prosecutor’s request for seven and ten years respectively, would hardly carry a small fine in democratic nations or, simply, would not constitute a crime under a rule of law. But the two artists have been in jail for long months and are only now being brought before a court, whose ruling is governed more by the whims of a group in power than by the rigors of justice.

To avoid showing solidarity with the defendants, the surroundings of the Court woke up under a strong police and security services operation, the telephone lines and Internet access of innumerable activists and independent journalists were cut, and an intense campaign of demonization was deployed on social networks to try to counter any show of support for Otero Alcántara and Osorbo. But the effect of this offensive seems to be just the opposite of what the regime is seeking: people who were not aware of the trial have found out after inquiring about the many uniformed men they have seen in that part of the city, and the insistence on defining them as “criminals” in the official media has aroused more sympathy than rejection.

In the hands of Castroism — like a hot potato that burns if held between the fingers and ridicules if it is dropped — are the lives of two young people who represent the failure of a system. Coming from a humble neighborhood, both were supposed to blindly embrace the political model established in the country more than six decades ago because, according to official propaganda, they are part of the sectors most favored by the Revolution. But instead of that, Otero Alcántara and Osorbo have denounced the lies and arbitrariness of the leaders in olive green, the poverty of their neighborhood of San Isidro and police impunity.

By arresting and judging them, the Cuban system itself is showing that it only accepts total obedience from citizens, never criticism or dissidence in any of its forms. It has turned them into a banner of the fragility of a citizenry that has been cut off from all peaceful paths to change the status quo.

In the next few days the sentence against the two artists will be known. It is very likely that they are sentences designed to send an exemplary message to the rest of the population. But the Cuban regime has already lost this battle, it can lock up their bodies for years but it will not be able to put behind bars the symbol they have become.


Editorial Note: This text was originally published in Deutsche Welle in Spanish.


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.