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Cuban activist's hunger strike hits a nerve in and outside island as social tensions mount

Adriana Brasileiro, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Cuban television tried to discredit the strike by broadcasting alleged results of Otero Alcántara's medical exams and blood work that showed normal parameters. Memes on Twitter made fun of the artist's hemoglobin count of 16.8 grams per deciliter of blood, considered normal for an adult male.

The U.S. Embassy in Cuba pleaded for respect in a post on Twitter: "Like all Cubans, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara must be treated with dignity and respect. We have seen reports that he is in hospital and that his state is stable. We urge the authorities to protect his well being in this difficult moment."

The European Union delegation to Cuba also voiced concern: "We have shared this concern with our Cuban friends and now we hope that he will soon recover his health and can enjoy his rights as a citizen and as an artist."

By late Monday, there was no update on his state.

Otero Alcántara's dramatic protest comes less than six months after another hunger strike by activists and academics led to a rare protest in Havana in which hundreds gathered outside the Ministry of Culture.

The island is struggling as authorities push through painful economic reforms that have sent inflation soaring. Long lines for food and basic necessities have become part of the routine for most Cubans. Trump-era sanctions have reduced access to vital economic lifelines like remittances. Even the COVID-19 pandemic, which seemed to be under control during much of 2020, appears to be a growing threat as case and death numbers continue to rise.

 

It's no surprise that Cuba's nascent but increasingly vocal social movement is channeling mounting frustration through social media, but it's not clear yet whether Otero Alcántara's hunger strike will ignite the momentum needed for a real transformation, said Ric Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group.

"There are a lot of Cubans protesting, but it's mostly a disjointed movement. There is no leadership, no common vision. There is a lot of energy but it's not being directed to one single objective," he said.

Moreover, the Biden administration has said that Cuba is not a priority for U.S. foreign policy now, he noted. And in Cuba, leadership is more concerned with asserting its power amid the leadership change, with the newly-appointed Díaz-Canel at the helm of the Communist Party.

"We're probably just going to see a continuing downward spiral into chaos and repression," Herrero said.

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