Church official visits Cuban dissident leader on hunger strike

San Cristobal Cathedral San Cristobal Cathedral, Havana | nodff/Shutterstock

The chancellor of the Archdiocese of Havana reportedly visited Cuban dissident Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on April 30, and attempted to persuade him to end his hunger strike.

Alcántara heads the civil society San Isidro Movement and has been on a hunger strike without food or water since April 25, demanding the Cuban government respect his freedom of expression.

The Palabra Nueva (New Word) magazine published by the archdiocese of Havana, reported April 30 that “at the request of Cardinal Juan de la Caridad García, Archbishop of Havana, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Msgr. Ramón Suárez Polcari, visited this afternoon Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who went on a hunger strike six days ago.”

“The Church official ‘went to see the young artist to ask him to desist from the strike, but he was unsuccessful in his endeavor,” the magazine reported.

Palabra Nueva reported that Polcari and Alcántara “talked for an hour.”

“On behalf of the Church, the Cuban priest said the priority is to save the life of the young man and avoid suicide, however, he acknowledges that the activist remains firm in his decision,” the magazine reported.

The San Isidro Movement, which takes the name of the neighborhood where it is based, is a group of Cuban artists that has carried out protests in the Cuban capital. In November 2020, some 300 people peacefully demonstrated outside the Ministry of Culture for freedom of expression.

The website of the artist group has pointed to “the urgent need to call all Cuban men and women, living inside or outside of Cuba, to a National Dialogue to aspire to build a country that represents a safe home for all its sons and daughters.”

Alcántara charged that several weeks ago, members of State Security came into his house and took away his artwork. The dissident leader has been on a hunger strike in his home, which is under surveillance by government agents.

On May 2, the Havana Provincial Board of Health reported that Alcántara, who was on the eighth day of his hunger strike, was taken early that morning to the General Calixto García University Hospital emergency room. 

According to officials, the dissident was diagnosed with “voluntary starvation” and arrived “in a state of consciousness and walking around without difficulty.” They indicated that “there are no signs of malnutrition,” that the patient “shows normal clinical and biochemical parameters,” and that Alcántara “remains in stable condition." 

“A team of specialists is continuing appropriate medical care. He remains under observation based on the aforementioned reasons” that he was admitted to the hospital, the medical update stated.

However, members of the San Isidro Movement charged on Twitter that their leader “was taken away by force” and questioned how it can be said "he has no signs of malnutrition and dehydration if he has been on a hunger strike without food or water for more than seven days.”

“We demand transparency, and that’s not a favor, you are an institution and you must serve the people. Someone should explain why with that diagnosis it was necessary to be admitted [to the hospital]. If he’s okay, it should come out in the press,” they demanded on social media.

According to the most recent annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the Cuban government cracked down on the San Isidro Movement in November 2020.

“Cuban authorities harassed, surveilled, and stopped some protesters from leaving their homes, including preventing individuals from attending religious services,” USCIRF reported, adding that “Catholic officials were reportedly blocked from visiting protesters.”

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