14ymedio, Havana, 9 November 2017 — The arrest of Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has unleashed a wave of solidarity on the internet. The artist Tania Bruguera launched a solidarity campaign that as of Thursday exceeded 300 signatures to demand the release of the young artist.
The declaration states that the government’s reaction towards the artist has been disproportionate and that the response is aimed at “blocking the organization of the independent Art Biennial of 2018 led by” Otero Alcántara.
The artist was arrested by police on Monday and will be tried tomorrow, Friday, accused of the crime of receiving stolen goods for having in his house several bags with construction materials that police say are of “dubious origin.”
The Cuban Penal Code sanctions this crime with “deprivation of liberty from three months to a year” or “a fine of one hundred to three hundred quotas* or both.” However, after Hurricane Irma cases against hoarders or people who diverted state resources have been judged more severely. The campaign describes Otero Alcántara as an artist who has developed “a work inspired by the reality of his country and that puts on display it contradictions.”
The text describes Otero Alcántara as an artist who has developed “a work inspired by the reality of his country and the pointing out of its contradictions”.
In the declaration that accompanies the petition for signatures, designated as “co-responsible” for what happened are Abel Prieto Jiménez, Minister of Culture, Miguel Barnet, president of the official Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), and Lesvia Vent Dumois, president of UNEAC’s Association of Plastic Artists.
When Otero Alcántara announced the initiative to hold an independent Biennial in May 2018, UNEAC circulated a note warning its members that “some unscrupulous people” were trying to organize a parallel event.
The artists ask for “his immediate freedom and without accusations of any kind” against Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and “the return of their property”, in addition to ending “the obstruction of the realization of the independent Biennial.”
Yanelyz Nuñez, another of the organizers of the #00Bienal de La Habana, explained to 14ymedio that “many friends have called to see what they can do and how the whole process is going.”
On the reaction within the Island, he said that “among the artists who live here the disconnect is important” and that they often ignore that these things happen. On Tuesday, the exhibition Nada Personal at the D’Nasco Studio was inaugurated, which included the work of Luis Manuel along with other artists, and most of the people there did not know what had happened.”
Núñez considers that the greatest pressure for the artist to be released is coming “from the web” and says that they have received a lot of support.
Núñez explained that Otero had been transferred to the detention center known as the Vivac as of Tuesday night and his family has hired a lawyer for his defense.
In a text signed by this young graduate of the History of Art, it is emphatically stated that “in the conviction that the realization of this project is important” they will continue with the next stages and that they are not afraid.
*Translator’s note: Cuban criminal law specifies fines in “quotas” rather than specific amounts so that all the fines can be updated by changing the value of a quota.