Cuban Artists Sentenced for Their Critical Art

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

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Castillo ‘Osorbo’ were Sentenced to Five and Nine Years in Prison

By 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – There is now a sentence in the trial against the artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Osorbo, held on May 30 and 31 in Havana. In a statement made public this Friday by the Attorney General’s Office, the People’s Municipal Court of Central Havana reported that the sentence for Alcantara is five years in prison for the crimes of outrage against the symbols of the country, contempt and public disorder, and for Osorbo, nine years for contempt, attack, public disorder and defamation of institutions and organizations, heroes and martyrs.

Time they have already spent in prison before their trial, 11 months in the case of Alcantara and 13 in the case of Osorbo, is discounted. [The artists from the San Isidro Movement are among the most feared by the Cuban government which doesn’t tolerate any criticism of its policies or repressive laws against artistic or any other freedom of expression.]

Although the judges lowered the requests of the Prosecutor’s Office – which was seven years for Alcántara and ten for Osorbo – they reached the “conviction based the facts proven in the oral hearing and their social harmfulness,” says the text.

Thus, for Alcantara, without mentioning the events they refer to were from his Drapeau artistic performance, say that he had “the express intention, sustained over time, of offending the national flag, by publishing photos on social networks where it is used in demeaning acts, accompanied by notoriously offensive and disrespectful expressions, belittling the feelings of nationality and pride that the Cuban people profess towards our national flag.”

As for Osorbo, they argue that he used false images “digitally manipulated, which he made public on social networks; and for the same purpose he carried out direct interventions from his personal profile to dishonor the function that law enforcement officers perform in society” and “with the manifest purpose of outraging, affecting the honor and dignity of the country’s highest authorities.”

In the same trial, Felix Roque Delgado, Juslid Justiz Lazo and Reina Sierra Duvergel were sentenced for the crime of attack. The first, to five years in prison, and the second, to 3 years of “correctional work without internment.”

The sentence, to which 14ymedio has had access, is signed by judges Helen Hernandez Pozo, Martha Palomino Barany and Yoany Martínez Pérez, and dismissed the defense’s petitions. Alcantara’s lawyer asked either for his acquittal, or to accept a crime of contempt with mitigation, which did not carry a prison sentence, and Osorbo’s lawyer asked to accept a crime of resistance and one year of internment.

The “proven facts” include posts on Facebook by Alcantara in July, August, and September 2019, as well as a post by Osorbo in August 2020. It should be remembered that the leader of the San Isidro Movement has been in the maximum security prison of Guanajay, Artemisa, since July 2021, when he was arrested before being able to join the protests of the 11th of that month.

Osorbo, for his part, has been in the Kilo Cinco y Medio prison, in Pinar del Río, since May 2021. The events for which he had been told he was detained occurred on the previous April 4, at a demonstration on Damas street, in front of the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement. When the police tried to arbitrarily arrest him, he refused to get on the patrol car. In this, he was helped by those also prosecuted, Felix Roque Delgado, Juslid Justiz Lazo and Reina Sierra Duvergel.

In the ruling made known, it is stated that on the afternoon of that April 4, “in the vicinity of Cuba street on the corner of Acosta”, in Old Havana, Maykel Castillo, Felix Roque and Juslid Justiz were present, and that Justiz “lacked the sanitary mask” to protect against covid-19.

Two agents who were in a vehicle of the Revolutionary Police, continues the legal text, called the attention of the woman, who at the time was defended by Osorbo. “The co-defendant Castillo Perez told the officer that no one would put on a mask, that he was Osorbo, and he began to shout in a disturbed manner,” says the sentence, which indicates that it was Osorbo who attacked the police vehicle, before the officers tried to stop him, to no avail.

After that, the accused, always according to the sentence, arrived at Damas 955. There, the document continues, “both of those prosecuted, with the evident purpose of altering public order and citizen tranquility, began to play music at full volume outside of Otero Alcantara’s home, which attracted a crowd of people who occupied the entire public thoroughfare, while the defendants chanted ‘when I say Díaz-Canel you say singao [motherfucker], Díaz-Canel singao, Díaz-Canel singao‘, with the marked intention of insulting President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermudez.”

The loud chorus is part of the anti-establishment rap Diazka. The artists themselves reported, and so it appeared in videos that they spread on social networks, that on April 4 they sang the song turned into an anthem Patria y Vida (Homeland and Life) in the street.

The artist Julio Llopiz-Casal, who together with Lazaro Saavedra witnessed the defense of Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and had said that the questions in his statement that May 30 focused on emphasizing “what was based on to vouch for the artistic career” of the activist, has seen with astonishment how his statement in the sentence is portrayed.

“Friends of the accused,” says the text, “tried to justify the actions of the defendant, an aspect we did not give credibility to, as they omit that the national symbol, in this case the Cuban flag, generates in the people a feeling of patriotism, which unites belonging to the same land, having the same origin, and the same history, which becomes tangible when we respect the flag, since it is a sign of what distinguishes, identifies and unifies the Cuban people.”

In this regard, Llopiz-Casal bluntly declared to 14ymedio: “Using as an argument the bond of friendship that unites me with Luis Manuel Otero as a defense witness to dismiss the elements that I gave for the defense cause is an act of baseness, bungling and manipulation.”

The Madrid-based NGO Prisoners Defenders has also spoken out against the sentence, calling the court decision a “crime against human beings and art.”

The trial of Alcantara and Osorbo, both declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, has been denounced by international organizations such as the UN. The days of the oral hearing were characterized by the harassment and repression of activists and journalists within the island.

After a period unable to make a phone call, Alcantara was able to release an audio from prison that he had recorded on May 17, in which he spoke of the repression suffered in recent years, the offer of release in exchange for exile that was made to him from the regime, and rejected, and of the fighting spirit that he wishes to transmit to his son and to the entire Cuban people.

Alcantara’s official account reported: “Luis has just called. They have apparently removed his punishment. He is not in a very good mood, he continues to demand his freedom without conditions. About @MaykelCastill19 [Osorbo] he comments that in the trial he saw him with a foot in bad condition. We don’t know if it has been taken care of.”

Both have ten working days to appeal the sentence.

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