Cuban artist hospitalized on Day 8 of hunger strike

Havana (AFP) –


A Cuban dissident artist was taken to hospital Sunday, health officials in Havana said, on the eighth day of a hunger strike to protest against authorities seizing his art.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, 33, is the leader of the San Isidro protest movement (MSI) of artists and intellectuals pressing for free speech and other rights in the communist nation.

The Cuban government accuses Otero Alcantara and other members of the movement of political revolt funded by the United States.

The Havana public health department said Sunday the artist had been taken to the emergency unit of the General Calixto Garcia university hospital in the capital with symptoms of "voluntary starvation".

Several of Otero Alcantara's works were seized when he was arrested earlier this month during a protest action.

After being released, he was re-arrested several times for trying to leave his home, which has been surrounded by police, and once for handing out candy to children as part of an artistic performance the government said was a political provocation.

Police denied access to two priests and others wishing to visit Otero Alcantara at home during his hunger strike. His internet was cut off.

"Luis Manuel can no longer stay upright, his skin and mouth is parched, he does not urinate or speak. He has an inflamed throat," fellow MSI member Amaury Pacheco, a poet, said on Twitter Saturday.

On Saturday night, police arrived at Otero Alcantara's house to try and stop the strike, without success, according to an MSI tweet.

Hours earlier, Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the US State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, had urged the Cuban government on Twitter "to take immediate steps to protect his life and health."

A 2009 study found people can survive without food and drink for between eight and 21 days, or up to two months if they take fluids without eating.