November 18 marked three years since the members of the dissident artist movement San Isidro began their hunger strike in Havana and were quashed by the Castro dictatorship. The San Isidro Movement sparked the song “Patria y Vida,” which led to mass protests across the island on July 11, 2021 and the subsequent brutal crackdown by the communist regime. Cuba has not been the same since.
Three years later: What happened to the San Isidro hunger strikers?
On November 18, three years passed since a group of Cuban artists and activists began a hunger strike at the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), a house located at Damas 955 in Old Havana. They were demanding the release of the dissenting rapper Denis Solís, who had been detained and sentenced by the regime in a summary trial to eight months in prison for the alleged crime of “contempt.”
Two days prior, the hunger strikers and other MSI members had barricaded themselves in the location. State Security implemented 24-hour surveillance and a blockade, not allowing any activists, friends, or family of the hunger strikers to pass through. They attempted to intimidate them by trying to introduce a chemical agent under the door.
Eight days later, on November 26, Cuban government repressive forces raided the San Isidro Movement headquarters, violently removing all the protesters, some of whom were in delicate health due to the hunger strike.
The hunger strikers included Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (LMOA), Maykel Castillo Pérez (El Osorbo), Iliana Hernández, Oscar Casanella, Osmani Pardo Guerra, Adrián Rubio, Esteban Rodríguez, Katherine Bisquet, Anamely Ramos González.
What happened to the hunger strikers?
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara:
Following the events in San Isidro, Luis Manuel Otero, the movement’s leader, was imprisoned and harassed by State Security on several occasions, as had been happening for a long time due to his dissenting art.
On July 11, 2021 (11J), amid popular protests, Otero Alcántara was arrested and has remained in prison since then. Although the activist had been detained since 11J for attempting to join the demonstrations, his current sentence is based on the 2019 performance “Drapeau.”
For that public intervention where he used the national flag as a press, Otero Alcántara was sentenced in June 2022 to five years in prison for the alleged crimes of “disrespect for national symbols,” “contempt,” and “public disorder.”
While in prison, the prestigious American magazine Time named him one of the most influential people of 2021. He also received the 2022 Prince Claus Impact Award, presented by the Dutch fund of the same name, recognizing artists who do significant, necessary, and inspiring work addressing political themes, environmental issues, or in defense of human rights.
Maykel Castillo Pérez:
The 40-year-old musician won two Grammy Awards for the song “Patria y Vida” in 2021. Due to his imprisonment under the regime, he couldn’t receive the award. Castillo Pérez is serving a nine-year prison sentence, handed down in June 2022 for alleged crimes of contempt, assault, public disorder, and defamation of institutions, heroes, and martyrs.
At the beginning of this year, Rolling Stone published an extensive article about the musician. While highlighting Maykel Castillo as one of the authors and performers of the song “Patria y Vida,” whose reception at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2021 was a significant event in the global music scene, Rolling Stone lamented that the artist remains incarcerated.
Organizations, activists, and individuals close to Luis Manuel Otero and Maykel Castillo have continued demanding their release.
Activist and journalist from CiberCuba, Iliana Hernández, left Cuba for Spain in March 2022 after almost four years under of being prohibited to travel.
Hernández, a native of Guantanamo, had been a creator, presenter, and producer of “Lente Cubano,” an audiovisual program that portrayed the reality of the island through culture and citizen denouncement. She was a founder of the movement “Somos +.”
Currently, she continues to denounce the reality of the island and demands respect for human rights.
Cuban activist Oscar Casanella arrived in Miami in January 2022 after crossing the border with his family.
Casanella, a biochemist by profession and one of those barricaded in the San Isidro Movement, stated that leaving the island was “with the pain of a patriot obsessed with the freedom of the Cuban people. It was a very tough decision to make.”
A victim of strong repression by the Cuban State Security, the scientist added upon arriving in the U.S. that “unfortunately, that’s what the dictatorship insists on”: that citizens leave Cuba.
Writer Katherine Bisquet, after being imprisoned several times by the regime on the island, was forced to leave Cuba due to her political activism and opposition to the dictatorship.
Along with her partner, also activist Hamlet Lavastida, she sought refuge in Poland in exchange for the visual artist’s release. They currently reside in Madrid.
In October 2022, Bisquet received the “Ciudad de Alcalá” award in the Poetry category for her work “Esquizopatria,” a poetry collection that “was born from a cultural existence process against State violence in Cuba.”
Last year, she worked as a producer on the documentary “En San Isidro.”
Activist Osmani Pardo Guerra left Cuba in May 2023. After over two years of harassment and persecution, Pardo Guerra arrived in Germany accompanied by his wife.
Upon leaving the island, he stated: “I’m leaving my country by force. They don’t let me live or work here, they close doors wherever I go, and they threaten me from private numbers (…). I’m leaving with my wife, who is an anonymous warrior known to only a few. My wife has been there every moment, has suffered alongside my family and me with every detention and everything that happens to me, every surveillance the State Security of this dictatorship did to prevent me from leaving the house.”
Pardo Guerra affirmed that it was a tough decision as he left a significant part of his family in Cuba.
In December 2021, Osmani Pardo Guerra was sentenced to one year of house arrest for the alleged crime of resistance. The sentence was issued in a summary trial by the People’s Tribunal of the Marianao Municipality. The charge of resistance against the activist was filed after an arrest by political police agents.
Adrián Rubio Santos
Adrián Rubio Santos was the youngest of those barricaded in San Isidro. At that time, he was 18 years old. Before the events at Damas 955, the human rights activist and member of the San Isidro Movement had become a conscientious objector by refusing to join the Military Service and wield weapons for a regime he openly opposed. He was interrogated and detained by the Cuban State Security several times.
The harassment against him and his family did not stop, which led him to leave for Russia on August 4, 2021, in search of a new life.
The young man spent eight months working in construction and cleaning stores for 10 to 12 hours a day. Once his stay permit in Russia expired, the activist had to stay “in the shadows” to avoid being arrested. This situation led him to seek other destinations, eventually reaching the border with Belarus, where he survived irregularly for months.
He currently resides in Italy.
Independent journalist Esteban Rodríguez was banished by the regime in January 2022.
Rodríguez was arrested on April 30, 2021, along with other activists who peacefully protested on Calle Obispo, showing solidarity with artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.
Without any charges brought against him, he spent over eight months in prison.
Exiled in Miami, he currently hosts the program “Defínete, Hablemos Claro” on Cántalo TV channel.
Anamely Ramos González
At the beginning of February 2022, when the professor, researcher, curator, and art critic Anamely Ramos was about to return to Cuba after a year outside the country, American Airlines denied her boarding the plane after receiving a message from the Cuban government. Later, on February 27, the airline again prevented her from traveling on a rescheduled flight after discussions with American Airlines themselves.
Since being banned from entering the country, the activist has persisted in reiterating her desire to return and to continue her efforts and complaints until she achieves it.
For over a decade, Anamely Ramos worked as a teacher at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA). Due to her activism, she was expelled from the institution in 2020, a year in which she was a victim of repression and harassment by the Cuban regime.