By Lynn Cruz
HAVANA TIMES – After 13 days of a sustained campaign on social networks and the independent press, performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, unjustly imprisoned by the Cuban government, was released.
This solidarity among artists, of Cubans at home and abroad, had an important precursor that, in my case I lived, the unjust condemnation of the scientist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola in 2018. He was released under an alleged extra-criminal license due to pressures.
In Luis Manuel Otero’s release they gave no reason in legal terms. At this time, it is unknown what happened to the alleged charges of “outrage against the national symbols” or “mistreatment of property.”
I had met Ariel Ruiz a week before he was jailed. I remember the pain I felt when I heard the news. I asked myself the same questions that journalist Carlos Manuel Alvarez did today. It was my first time dealing with a prisoner of conscience whom I knew and could feel the visible injustice.
I gave the example of Alvarez, because I read a very emotional article by him: “Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, in the hands of popular justice”. In my case, that experience hardened me a bit, so today, I was able to distance myself from what happened with Otero. I mean that the visceral pain was familiar. So, to what extent do we come out with our damaged sensitivity, after suffering, within this type of experience?
Now I think of the playwright Virgilio Piñera, and his phrase: “This world is in the rough and hopefully it will thaw, because if it doesn’t, hardness will kill us.”
But each collective victory represents a little more freedom, and that is an almost absolute truth, so without losing tenderness, we must continue despite all that, because Cubans are condemned to politics.
I did my play Patriotismo 36-77, on the prisoners of conscience in 2018, and the Ariel Ruiz injustice had already happened. When I began to investigate the names of other past victims, Nestor Díaz de Villegas, Raul Rivero, Maria Elena Cruz Varela, Orlando Zapata, Osvaldo Paya, Laura Pollan, they were part of those ghosts that accompanied inmates 1,2 and 3, the main characters, along with Spectrum 1, 2 and 3.
I took as an important reference artist Tania Bruguera and her performance Untitled (2000). The prison of conscience in Cuba had only been addressed in the visual arts by Bruguera, but not in the theater. When I suffered the loneliness of being censored, my self-analysis began on what consciousness is. Since Fidelismo was implanted as a creed in Cuba, being against its doctrines meant becoming a heretic of the religion that Castro called “Revolution”. This heretic, a stinking worm, who had to be trampled to death.
A characteristic of underdevelopment, according to the writer Edmundo Desnoes, is not accumulating experience. I think that there are several aspects that have been repeated and with it caused the success of these two campaigns. The fundamental one for me, and in the case of Ariel Ruiz, came a few days after the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez spoke out against this injustice, and we received the news of his release.
Now, almost 2 years after that event, Rodriguez, this controversial artist and lover of Fidelista ideas, repeats the same gesture. What I want to say is that, beyond the importance of art, because it transcends borders, internal pressures are what ultimately determine, especially if they are pro-government personalities.
This is how Rodriguez and his commendable civic conduct, being an authority, moves the red line a little further, allowing free thinkers to enter. This time, and luckily, Luis Manuel Otero also represents the sentiment of a generation of independent artists and journalists, who added freshness and energy to the movement.
The truth is that, in both cases, the prisoner of conscience has generated more sympathy than political prisoners, but the fact that they have something in common, being imprisoned for their ideas, cannot be trivialized.