Dissident artist, rapper sentenced to prison in Cuba

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Diplomats from various countries wait outside the court building where a trial against Cuban artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo is taking place in Havana, Cuba, Monday, May 30, 2022. The artists were arrested and jailed in connection to alleged public disturbances at a community event they organized in April 2021. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

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Two members of a dissident group of dissident artists have been sentenced to prison in Cuba, the country’s prosecutor’s office said on Friday.

Maikel Castillo was sentenced to nine years for attacks and defamation against the country’s institutions and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, 34, to five years for outrage against national symbols.

Both were involved in the so-called San Isidro Movement, named for the neighborhood where Otero Alcántara lives, which had attracted unusually wide support among leading Cuban artists and musicians in 2020.

Their arrests had been denounced by international human rights organizations as well as by the United States government, which considered them political persecution. The government said it was simply applying the law as it would anyone.

Prosecutors had searched 10 years for Castillo, better by the stage name “Osorbo,” and seven for Alcántara, according to his friends.

The same court also imposed a five-year sentence on Félix Roque Delgado and three years on two women who were convicted of beating up police in an effort to stop the arrest of Castillo, a 39-year-old rapper.

He was one of the composers of the song “Patria y Vida” — “Patria y Vida” — whose twist on the catchphrase “Patria o Muerte!” of the communist government made it a kind of anthem for opposition figures. He won a Latin Grammy Award this year. .

Otero Alcántara’s works of art with the Cuban flag were considered disrespectful.

In November 2020, the police broke up a kind of sit-in at Otero Alcántara’s house in support of another rapper, Denis Solís, who had been sentenced to prison for insulting a police officer. Castillo was among those who participated in the sit-in.

Authorities said they were enforcing pandemic restrictions on gatherings, but the move prompted some 200 people to stage a larger, almost unprecedented protest outside the Culture Ministry. That was disbanded after members of the group said they had won an unusual vote from the government for greater tolerance towards independent art.

Otero Alcántara was also the center of protests from other artists after his arrest last year. He was hospitalized, allegedly during a hunger strike, to demand the return of the works that the authorities had confiscated when he was detained.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had issued statements calling the case against the two artists a “farce.”

Their arrests were not directly related to the large-scale protests that erupted later in 2021 over economic hardship and government policies.

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