Otero: ‘The Torture I Suffered Was Psychological’

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara spoke with ’14ymedio’ after being discharged on Monday after four weeks in solitary confinement in a hospital in Havana. Photo: EFE

Por Luz Escobar (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara does not plan to pause or take a rest in his art or his activism. A few hours after leaving Calixto García Hospital, where he has been for almost a month without hardly any outside communication, he told 14ymedio that he is now ready to demand freedom for the activists in prison as a result of the April 30th protests on Obispo Street in Havana, and for Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo accused of attack, contempt and resistance, who has been in prison since Monday.

“My grandmother died, I came here to be with my family, also because this was where there was a landline phone, arriving at my house Damas Street without a cell phone I was still incommunicado,” says the artist, who had just left the hospital. He went to his family home, in El Cerro, to spend at least two days in their company. Otero Alcántara is clear and begins by confirming that, when they took him out of his home in the early morning of May 2 to take him to the hospital, they did so “by force” and “handcuffed.”

What was your arrival at the hospital like and how did your hunger and thirst strike end?

Luis Manuel Otero: When I arrived, I let them give me an IV so I could be aware of what was happening, because I was very weak. The next day I started drinking water, they gave me juice and some milk. A week passed and the following Monday I started the thirst strike again, the hunger strike was continuing. Then a fortnight ago, I started eating. Now I’m upset but okay, they are seeing the end.

What was your daily routine at Calixto García?

LMO. I spent all morning drawing or reading and in the morning they took my vital signs. Right now, talking about this is complex. I could say that I was tortured this way and that, but it would be dishonest. The torture I suffered was psychological. They kept the light on 24 hours a day, there was always a military man next to me, and if I spent more than 5 minutes in the bathroom he was knocking on the door. It was terribly cold the whole day and there was the fear that at any moment they can take you to another place. Plus the isolation. All that was torture.

My family was not allowed in when they wanted, when I saw them it was from a distance, like ten to twelve feet away. Of the four or five times that I saw my sister or my aunt it was at that distance, only once were we able to see each other up close and give each other a kiss and a hug, but only for five minutes, no more than that.

Were you always in the same room or were you transferred from time to time?

LMO.  I was in the Rubén Batista room the whole time. The three times they took me out was for those famous walks, which were supposedly to catch the sun but were actually for them to film me. The prisoners go out to sunbathe every day, but I was under air conditioning 24 hours a day and they took me out once a week, that was premeditated.

The video in which you go outside with Dr. Ifrán Martínez, how was it arranged? How was your relationship with the doctors?

LMO: The video was a conscience act. I understood that I had to send a message to people, I had to say something. The doctors who were there waiting for me were the ones that State Security selected, and valued certain characteristics. They were directed to behave in a certain way, they could not spend much time with me and they recorded on a piece of paper when they arrived and left with their name and position. Those doctors had a certain chance to talk to me. Ifran brought me books, I read 12 books in that month. They also brought me pens and paper and I began to draw pictures. I drew a lot, although with the fear that State Security would take it away from me.

How strict was the operation around you?

LMO: Everything was very well controlled by State Security, they were there constantly. Dr. Ifran was concerned because his face had already appeared on television, and here everyone knows that this means he may have 10 days, 20 days or two years left. I feel that they are concerned, because their children do not want their father to be the one who was later found to have tortured Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. I noticed that they wanted to make very clear the difference between them and State Security and to emphasize that they were there because they were given the mission to save me. The hospital was totally taken over by State Security, I think that was the way they found to keep me under control.

How did you come to leave the hospital?

LMO: My uncle went to the hospital to get me and a car brought us here. Now I have freedom of movement to go wherever I want. My house on Damas Street still has the police on the corner and I want to cool down (lower the temperature in) the neighborhood. Before leaving, the State Security officials told me that they have my mobile phone, but that they would not give it to me at that time because it had been left in another place and they assured me that they would return it to me, along with the works that they took from my house.

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