HAVANA: A Cuban dissident artist was taken to hospital on Sunday (May 2), health officials in Havana said, on the eighth day of a hunger strike to protest against authorities seizing his art.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, 33, is the leader of the San Isidro protest movement (MSI) of artists and intellectuals pressing for free speech and other rights in the communist nation.
The Cuban government has accused Otero Alcantara and other movement members of political revolt funded by the United States.
The Havana public health department said Sunday the artist had been taken to the emergency unit of the General Calixto Garcia university hospital in the capital with symptoms of “voluntary starvation”.
A later statement by the health authority claimed an examination showed that “starvation does not correspond with the parameters of the patient”, and there “was hydration and food.”
Images on state television showed Otero Alcantara arriving at the hospital in an ambulance at dawn, stepping out in a green gown and walking inside supported by medical staff.
Several of his works were seized when he was arrested earlier this month during a protest action.
After being released, he was rearrested several times for trying to leave his home, which has been surrounded by police, and once for handing out candy to children as part of an artistic performance the government said was a political provocation.
Police denied access to two priests and others wishing to visit Otero Alcantara at home during his hunger strike. His internet was also cut off.
The MSI said in a statement Sunday that the artist had been taken to hospital by force and called the official medical report “confusing and contradictory.”
In the last few days, Otero Alcantara “presented strong abdominal pains and severe muscle weakness that prevented him from moving easily, among other signs of dehydration,” the statement said.
Free speech activist group Freedom House in a tweet demanded evidence of Otero Alcantara’s physical state, and the US embassy in Cuba called on Havana authorities “to protect his well-being in this difficult moment.”
Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, urged the Cuban government on Twitter Saturday “to take immediate steps to protect his life and health.”
A senior foreign ministry official in charge of US affairs, Johana Tablada, responded on Twitter that “pitiful is the misleading concern and message of contempt from the #US government to the people of #Cuba to which it applies abuse and suffocation policy”.
Her tweet referred to the US sanctions on Cuba, which have been in effect since 1962 and were increased under former President Donald Trump during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A 2009 study found people can survive without food and drink for between eight and 21 days, or up to two months if they take fluids without eating.