Art critique

Cuban artists are on trial and face years in prison for criticizing the government

Two Cuban artists went on trial Monday after being detained for nearly a year for inciting protests and criticizing the government.

Prosecutors are asking for 10 years in prison for rapper Maykel Castillo and seven years for visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, both declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Both artists were involved in a group called the San Isidro Movement, which is made up of Cuban artists, journalists and intellectuals who are vocal in their criticism of the communist government.

Castillo, also known by his stage name Osorbo, won a Latin Grammy for his song “Patria y Vida” – “Homeland and Life” after his arrest in May 2021. The song is a play on the slogan of the country “Fatherland or death”.

Otero Alcántara, known for using the Cuban flag in his work, is accused of defamation and abuse of national symbols.

Both men were arrested before widespread anti-government demonstrations spread across the country in July 2021, protesting food shortages and power outages.

Otero Alcántara previously had a run-in with police in November 2020, when authorities broke up a sit-in he was organizing in support of rapper Denis Solís, who was being held for insulting an officer.

Officials claimed they were enforcing COVID-19 health regulations, prompting an even larger rally of 200 people at the Culture Ministry, which was dispersed after protesters hailed a victory – a government pledge of more than tolerance and freedom of expression.

Since Otero Alcántara’s arrest, a number of other artists have shown their support by demanding that their works be removed from the National Museum of Fine Arts. Their requests have so far been denied.

Amnesty International has urged the Cuban authorities to allow access for international organizations to observe the trial and release the men.

Diplomats representing several European countries waited outside the courthouse on Monday but were refused entry.