A fog seemed to be all around him. He could not tell if it was from the outside or inside. A dullness spread throughout. The artist tried to orient himself, soon recognizing this fog was internal. He began to form thoughts. Where was he? Who was he? Letters appeared in his mind. Stringing them together in a coherent sentence was futile. The artist tried opening his eyes, but everything hurt. He scrunched them tightly, viewing things like slits through a fence. Until he adjusted to the unfamiliar surroundings, he would do no more.
Warily he peeked out of one eye, beginning to caress his skin. Once upon a time, he was celebrated for his lustrous coppery appearance. Now, all he could see and touch were scales, flakiness, dulling his glorious pigmentation. He closed his eyes again, feeling all around his arms and legs. Punctures from needles remained palpable to touch. The body’s memory seeped into his mind, recalling the forced injections. For a period, the artist’s determination prevailed against the heavy-handedness of the aides. Unfortunately, the hunger strike, although noble, had weakened him. The opposition took full advantage of that with a tremendous amount of drugs forced into his bloodstream. Over time, the poison took control of his body, causing him to succumb to their brutality accompanied by an increasingly listless spirit.
Now his memory became more vivid. An outline of pictures began to swirl in his mind. He recalled the fallacious medical personnel clamping his wrists to the uncomfortable chair and stuffing a rag in his mouth. The artist suddenly recoiled, experiencing the memory of the electricity surging through his body. He began to weep, rocking himself for comfort. All of it began to unfold. Although details were not in his grasp, there was no denial of the regular electric shock treatments imposed on him.
To wipe the trauma temporarily from his mind, the artist vigorously attempted to replace the horror he was experiencing. He began examining his hands, front and back, touching his face. The artist started thinking about his artwork, recognizing his gifts and courage were from a God many outside the regime celebrated. Because his family had few resources like much of the Cuban masses, he taught himself in secret.
Thinking about his colorful artwork, the artist smiled. He hoped that some of it survived and not confiscated by tyrants who controlled his beloved people. Suddenly, images of the organization he founded popped into his mind. Anxiety began to form in his chest as he wondered how the other members fared. He thought about his remarkable friends, gifted beyond words. These celebrated writers, musicians, students, researchers, and artists like him vowed to continue their fight against censorship. Disturbingly, he had no clue about their undertakings. Since he was arrested and mandated to a reputed psychiatric facility, no visitors were allowed. The space that encapsulated him provided no clues to anything beyond the walls of this windowless room. In between the tortures inflicted on him, he slept, never knowing the hour as night became day and day became night with all other events suspended in time.
All of this thinking created fatigue as the artist became groggy. Before he retreated into his dream state, he questioned how his beautiful home could remain in the grips of such evil. For a moment, he thought about the relatives who escaped to the United States, hoping they would never forget how fortunate they were. Before he drifted further into sleep, the artist smiled again. Maybe, his dreams would reveal him being free from oppression. Those in that not-so-far-away land claim dreams can come true. Perhaps, someday his greatest desire will become more than a fantasy.
Author’s Note: Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, a 33-year-old artist, had been detained by the Cuban government and, since May 2, 2021, held at Havana’s Calixto Garcia Hospital. Mary Anastasia O’Grady, a WSJ journalist who writes about the Americas, penned an op-ed this past week about the plight of Mr. Otero. A short, edited video of Mr. Otero Alcantara released by the regime alarmed his friends, supporters, and the human rights community. There was much concern that psychiatric torture foisted upon him by the Cuban military dictatorship. Consequently, Amnesty International declared him as a prisoner of conscience.
Mr. Otero Alcantara founded the San Isidro Movement to oppose the regime’s censorship. He was taken away because of his weakened physical condition as a result of his hunger strike. His hospitalization occurred in the same facility where Laura Pollan, the Ladies in White leader, died in 201l.
Thankfully, because of international pressure, Mr. Otero Alcantara was freed on May 31st.
For those who believe that Cuba is a utopia, remember, Americans and most of the international community receive no exposure to what lies behind the facade. This same thing happened in the thirties when intellectuals from the United States visited the Soviet Union. Stalin did not reveal the true horrors of an oppressive regime.
Upon our “normalizing” relations with Cuba, Raul Castro was clear that the Cuban government did not need to alter anything. When a friend of mine told me they were visiting, I withheld any comment. After my friend returned, I asked how the trip was. This friend shared with me that they had an excellent tour guide. As they were commiserating about the island, my friend commented on the cruise ship docked in Cuba. The friend optimistically said to the tour guide that they must be happy to benefit from the tourism industry. What was the tour guide’s response? He was clear that this wind of fortune only blew in the direction of the government. The long-suffering people of this nation received little if any financial rewards.