Why Can Cuba Keep Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara Locked Up? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jiminez Vega in Havana’s Calixto Garcia Hospital.

Jeovany Jiminez Vega, 30 May 2021 — It was nearly a month ago that Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested in this home and taken by force to Calixto García hospital in Havana, where he has been kept by Cuban State Security. The lying officials have published various manipulated videos showing a disoriented and confused Luis Manuel who seems not to know why he is staying in that place, and there even circulated an anonymous complaint from a supposed worker in that centre, claiming that Luis Manuel is being subjected to  — for which read tortured by — electroconvulsive procedures, which presumably would explain his evident deterioration.

Up to now, even Luis Manuel´s closest family are prevented from visiting, as well as any members of the Movimiento San Isidro, who are also victims of this onslaught, including all sorts of threats and retaliations, ranging from the typical police warnings up to house arrests lasting for weeks. Meanwhile, according to the official version, the activist has abandoned his hunger strike and presents normal vital signs.

Nevertheless, up to the moment of writing the leader of San Isidro remains a prisoner, an obvious contradiction which presents the obvious question: if Luis Manuel is presumably sane, and has abandoned his protest, why is he still being detained in isolation from his family and friends? Why, taking into account the seriousness of this outrage, similar to the imprisonment of the activists detained in the  Obispo Street protests  — against imprisonment of the artist, in 2021 has this not produced a more energetic reaction from the San Isidro Movement and 27 N Movement, and why the relative silence in the rest of the opposition on these scandalous cases?

On a superficial view of the matter, there are the immediate demands from Luis Manuel — that is, the ending of the hostility towards the activists and the return of their works – but this would be too partial a view which leaves some important factors out of the equation. For the government it could be convenient in tactical terms to accede to Luis Manuel´s demands; It would mean little to return his works to the activist in the face of the connotation that such a “compassionate” gesture would have for a Biden who, after sending strong signals, has now hit the brakes and is observing in standby — something that has Castroism on tenterhooks, even when it claims the contrary — because it would be prudent to resolve the case if only not to stoke the fire.

We should bear in mind that before this Havana had to deal with more serious crises, like Coco Fariña´s  hunger strike, following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010; then the international press focussed its attention on the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) resulting in the demand for the freeing of the Black Spring protesters. That crisis had to be managed during Obama´s first term, under pressure of a European Union Common Position which closed off Havana from Europe.

In contrast, today, the government of Díaz-Canel is not being watched by international media,  and although it is sinking in an irreversible economic crisis, it is not under attack from the political point of view — in fact, since six months ago, the Cuban government is a member of the UN Council of Human Rights!¡¡??!

Today the world is not showing much interest in Cuba; other topics, such as the conflict in Palestine, the Belorusian situation, the increasing tension between the US and Russia and the trade war with China, as well as the the crisis in Colombia, are drawing its attention, and it is just in this inattention toward things Cuban where we find one of the keys to the current wave of repression by the Cuban dictatorship.

We can add another most important factor to this evidence:  the dictatorship´s continuing potential for repression. If we take objectivity as the starting point for our argument, free from catharsis and deceitful triumphalism which often portend imminent  breakdowns, we can note that up to this moment the dictatorship has not even had to arrange extreme measures — grand displays of special troops and the use of riot squads or regular military units — to control brief bouts of insubordination.

We cannot forget that this huge repressive apparatus which eagerly waits to spring into action — ignorant cannon-fodder, indoctrinated and blind — is the same one that advised and participated in the direct carrying out of violent repressive escalation during the grave crisis which, in 2017, shed blood on the streets in Venezuela: which served as a great laboratory and rehearsal where Castroism could try out its tactics of repression and extreme control, and, don´t be in any doubt, took careful note of it.

When we put these scenarios into perspective, we realise that, in spite of the unsustainable economic situation, today´s Cuba is still far-removed from the premonitory climate for a such a social explosion, which is hard for somebody to understand who takes a bird´s eye view of our reality and who has not lived beneath a Stalinist totalitarianism. The Castroism has had plenty of time to crystallise, and has been very aggressive and systematic in its indoctrination which now appear absorbed into the very genes of entire generations of Cubans, so that, until now, it has been enough for the murderous thugs to activate these conditioned reflexes by appealing with relative success to their supreme resource: the learned helplessness, that philosopher’s stone of every absolutist regime, which has become the best weapon of Castroism.

That is why it is not against Luis Manuel, nor against the activists of Obispo Street, that this battle is being waged today, but against 14 million Cubans. The dictatorship knows that this war is won or lost in the collective psyche, that is why it is towards that unfathomable and total fear that this pristine message is directed: don’t even try, it will never be worth the trouble of opposing it, you can do nothing against Big Brother. Dilute yourself in your condition of flag-waver in the shapeless mass, settle for that, your place and your destiny, where you will be the standard raised in my parades, my basic medium, that malleable statistic always useless when you think, the impersonal rag that I undo and reuse, just insect, protoplasm, gob that I spit out when I want. Do not claim anything, demand nothing, with you I will always do whatever the hell I feel like, and anyone stupid enough to oppose it will be made to pay dearly.

This aberrant and despotic handling of the Alcántara case in full view of all should be understood as a fully-fledged declaration of principles, with which the dictatorship lectures us and pursues humiliating us, delighted in its arrogance. It seems orgasmic to Castroism to perceive how its poison paralyzes us and it pleases it to see us curled up in our comfort zone while it tears another Cuban to pieces like one more line is drawn on the tiger’s skin. This impudent kidnapping is an open challenge to civil society and a challenge to the opposition to test how far they dare at this precise moment when social networks are just imposing their dynamics despite the low penetration of the Internet and systematic censorship, granting greater immediacy and visibility to increasingly numerous and daring complaints and citizen initiatives, something the regime warned against with great nervousness.

But it has never been the same to summon a demon as to see it arrive. Although it is true that the regime maintains police fences, that it has kept more than one activist in house arrest and carried out numerous arrests, I do not believe that it has dealt with all of them from time to time to the point of rendering inoperative that network which, to a greater or lesser extent, has spoken out publicly before and after November 27, and yet now, almost a month after the San Isidro leader was detained and in the midst of an insulting official silence, he has not achieved a sufficiently energetic projection that favours the release of Luis Manuel and the rest of the imprisoned activists.

Let us imagine with what orgiastic joy the executioners will at this precise moment look into the eyes of what remains of Luis Manuel after this torture, and ask him where are all those brothers of the cause who protested against Decree 349, or the group of rebels in front of the Ministry of Culture that day in November. Will the activists awaiting trial along with common prisoners since the Obispo protest not say anything either? How is it that the people of San Isidro, of Havana and of Cuba as a whole are not constantly asking the authorities wherever they are, or the medical management of “Calixto García”, or directly to the Minister of Public Health why that young man who fights for the usurped rights of all Cubans is kept imprisoned in a Havana hospital?

From all this it can be concluded that Cuba’s harsh fight for freedom cannot be undertaken with the passionate intensity of a sprint ending up in exhaustion after the first few meters, but rather as a long-distance race conceived in strategic terms, which can only be won with firmness and perseverance; it is a war that only the chosen ones can fight, those really willing to risk their skin and persevere til the end.

Once this wave of repression has passed, we will be taught how useless it will always be to try to build idyllic bridges between a subjugated people and their tyrants, we will have verified how little catharsis is worth and that dictatorships do not lie down with songs, but we will also be more mature and it will be more obvious to us that freedom will come only when this people vibrates in resonance with its dignity, assumes risks to conquer its rights and dares to jump into the void. When we have finally accepted that as the only way in which a people shakes off tyrants, only on that day – not one hour more, not one hour less – will we be able to sink the dagger in a definitive thrust to the heart of the beast. It will be just that day when you lose your fear, you Cubans who are listening to me, when the dictatorship collapses.

Artists and other protestors in front of the Ministry of Culture on 27 November.

Translated by GH