The Artist who Shook the Cuban Regime Turns 35 in Jail

Luis Manuel Otero turns 35 in a maximum-security prison, his friends celebrate his life and efforts

The Cuban Embassy in Madrid activated an alarm to ward off Otero’s friends who brought a letter and a cake for the 35th birthday of the artist imprisoned since July 2021

HAVANA TIMES – December 2nd was the 35th birthday of Cuban performance and visual artist Luis Manuel Otero, who has been in jail for no legitimate reason since July 11, 2021. Amnesty International and a group of “Luisma’s” friends in Madrid celebrated the day but were rejected by the Cuban Embassy, reported 14ymedio.

Olatz Cacho, spokesman for Amnesty in Spain, knocked on the door of the diplomatic headquarters with the intention of leaving a cake and a letter addressed to Otero, but was rejected. Instead, “they set off a loud fire alarm,” he told 14ymedio. “They would not even open the door for us or tell us anything. We were there for a while but then we had to leave, with a rather uncomfortable noise in our ears.”

The objective, according to Cacho, was to celebrate Luis Manuel’s birthday,” We want him to be released immediately and unconditionally. He has already been in jail going on two years and he is a prisoner of conscience who should never have spent a single day there,” the activist asserted.

Luis Manuel, Maykel Osorbo, also imprisoned, and other artists and friends founded the San Isidro Movement with its headquarters in Luis’s home on the rundown side of Old Havana. Luisma’s biting performances poked serious fun at the Cuban government’s conservatism and severe repression of artistic freedom. When the government passed new laws to further repress artists, Luis and other San Isidro Movement took to the streets to express their disapproval. 

In response the government monopoly media ordered special shows to try and discredit and slander Luis Manuel and other members of the San Isidro Movement. As usual the accused and abused were not allowed to respond. Other Cubans who publicly showed their support for the group were also severely harassed by State Security, some forced into exile as an alternative to jail. Otero and Osorbo were abducted on dozens of occasions before the last roundup that led to long sentences on imaginary charges. Otero was offered banishment from the Island for his release but he said NO.

Along with AI were several friends of Otero, such as Luz Escobar, Julio Llópiz-Casal, Carolina Barrero, Solveig Font, Nonardo Perea and Yanelys Núñez. Those gathered recalled some of the artist’s performances, such as ¿Dónde está Mella?, with which in 2016 he became a living statue of the student leader Julio Antonio Mella to ask where his statue, which was located in the block known as the Manzana de Gómez, had ended up, after its conversion into a luxury hotel.

Nuñez spoke with Luis Manuel on Thursday and told 14ymedio that the artist said he was “fine, surviving.” The activist said that, at least, the leader of the San Isidro Movement had not had problems with other common prisoners, as has happened on other occasions, and that he was without health problems. “Today he had a family visit, luckily, that’s a good thing, so he doesn’t spend his birthday too far away from the people he loves.” His friends are prohibited from visiting Luis.

Otero is serving a five-year sentence in the maximum security prison of Guanajay, Artemisa, for the supposed crimes of insulting the symbols of the country, contempt and public disorder, catch-all charges used for dissenting voices in Cuba.

The artist was arrested on July 11, 2021 before being able to join the protest that day in Havana and tried along with several people, including rapper Maykel Osorbo, also in jail, for political crimes. 

During one of the State Security break-ins at Luis’s home they stole all his art work, which he demanded back without any response from a government that acts with total impunity, and no accountability.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times