The Cuban regime has condemned over 550 protestors to more than 4,000 combined years of prison or other punitive measures since the historic July 11, 2021, protests, noted Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a recent tweet. Recent changes to the Cuban criminal code punish criticism of the government, its representatives and socialism.
The latest victims are Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo, a well-known rapper, who was sentenced to nine years in prison and visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara who received a five-year sentence. Both men were tried in May behind closed doors.
Castillo and Otero Alcántara are members of the San Isidro Movement, a group of dissident artists and academics that has challenged the lack of freedoms in Cuba and inspired peaceful protests against the government. The police arrested Otero Alcántara on July 11, 2021, after he announced he would join the massive protests that day.
Castillo and Otero Alcántara took part in a music video for the freedom anthem “Patria y Vida” or “Fatherland and Life,” which went viral in February 2021. Castillo was beaten by state security agents two months after the video’s release. Castillo and the other performers of “Patria y Vida” won the Latin Grammy for song of the year and best urban song. “Patria y Vida,” is a twist on Fidel Castro’s phrase “Homeland or Death” and became a popular song for the July 11 protesters.
Amnesty International condemned the trials of Castillo and Otero Alcántara, saying they are a “shameful example of the human rights crisis caused by the Cuban government’s decades-long policy of repression.”
In an interview in December 2020, after having staged a hunger strike, Otero Alcántara told the Miami Herald newspaper, “We live in a totalitarian regime that violates our rights, and they have control of the information. We live in a dictatorship. Who can believe in the regime when it abuses you?”
As the July 11 anniversary approached, Secretary Blinken, in a tweet, called for “those protestors who remain detained” to “be returned home to their families.” Blinken also said in a statement on July 11, “One year after the July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba, the United States recognizes the determination and courage of the Cuban people as they continue to fight for respect for human rights and persevere through repression during a historic year. We celebrate the Cuban people and commend their indomitable determination in the face of oppression.”