Wasserman Schultz Requests Urgent Assistance to Free Cuban Political Prisoners in Letter to Secretary of State

“As Maykel and Luis Manuel’s sponsor and principal advocate in Congress, I encourage you to join me…to ensure that their sacrifice on behalf of Patria y Vida – fatherland and life – was not made in vain.”

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-25) wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to express her appreciation for the Administration’s efforts to support Cubans fighting for democracy as the regime continues its brutal crackdown on dissent, and for requesting help to free hundreds of political prisoners wrongfully detained by the Cuban regime since the July 11 protest movement, including renowned Cuban rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

In addition to co-chairing the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus, Wasserman Schultz announced in November that she would advocate for Maykel and Luis Manuel, both of whom have been jailed for nearly three years, as part of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project. Wasserman Schultz is the first Member of Congress to sponsor Cuban prisoners of conscience under the Defending Freedoms Project.

“As Maykel and Luis Manuel’s sponsor and principal advocate in Congress, I encourage you to join me…to ensure that their sacrifice on behalf of Patria y Vida – fatherland and life – was not made in vain.”

In the letter, Wasserman Schultz thanks President Joe Biden and Secretary Blinken for granting humanitarian parole to Maykel and Luis Manuel and their families and requests that the Administration extend these parole guarantees indefinitely “to underscore that the United States will always protect those who fight for democracy.”

Wasserman Schultz asks that the State Department prioritize the immediate release of political prisoners including Maykel and Luis Manuel in any future talks with the regime and commit to strict punitive measures if they remain imprisoned. The letter notes the importance of U.S. support for cases on behalf of imprisoned Cuban dissidents at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), including a petition filed by the South Florida-based Cuban American Bar Association.

Wasserman Schultz works closely with Amnesty International, Freedom House, and Lantos Commission co-chairs Reps. James McGovern (D-MA) and Christopher Smith (R-NJ) to secure the immediate, unconditional release of these prisoners and raise awareness.

The full text of the letter can be found at bottom:

En Español:


Wasserman Schultz Solicita Ayuda Urgente para Liberar a los Presos Políticos Cubanos en Carta al Secretario de Estado

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hoy, la representante estadounidense Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) escribió una carta al Secretario de Estado Antony Blinken expresando su aprecio por los esfuerzos de la Administración para apoyar a los cubanos que luchan por la democracia mientras el régimen continúa su brutal represión contra la disidencia. La administración también ha solicitado ayuda para liberar a cientos de prisioneros políticos detenidos injustamente por el régimen desde el movimiento de protesta del 11 de julio, incluido el rapero cubano Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez y el artista Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

Además de presidir el Caucus para la Democracia en Cuba del Congreso, Wasserman Schultz anunció en Noviembre que defendería a Maykel y Luis Manuel, quienes han estado encarcelados durante casi tres años, como parte del Proyecto Defendiendo las Libertades de la Comisión de Derechos Humanos Tom Lantos. Wasserman Schultz es la primera miembra que patrocina a presos políticos cubanos por el Proyecto Defendiendo las Libertades.

“Como la patrocinadora y defensora principal para Maykel y Luis Manuel en el Congreso, te invito a unirte conmigo … para asegurar que su sacrificio en nombre de la Patria y Vida no fue hecho en vano.”

En la carta, Wasserman Schultz agradeció al Presidente Biden y Secretario Blinken por concederles la entrada condicional humanitaria a Maykel y Luis Manuel y sus familiares. Ella pide que la Administración extienda estas garantías indefinidamente “para mostrar que los Estados Unidos siempre protegerá a las personas que luchan por la democracia.”

Wasserman Schultz pide que el departamento del estado priorice la liberación inmediata de los presos políticos incluidos Maykel y Luis Manuel durante cualquier reunión con el régimen y también que ellos prometen medidas punitivas si siguen encarcelados. La carta también menciona la necesidad de apoyo estadounidense para casos de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) que involucran a disidentes cubanos encarcelados, incluido una petición enviada por la Asociación de Abogados Cubanoamericanos (CABA).

Wasserman Schultz trabaja en colaboración con Amnistía Internacional, Freedom House, y los presidentes de la Comisión Lantos Reps. James McGovern (D-MA) y Christopher Smith (R-NJ) para asegurar la liberación inmediata e incondicional de estos presos y para crear conciencia pública. 

La carta completa está a continuación: 

Dear Secretary Blinken,

I write to thank you for your efforts to protect democracy around the world and secure the release of wrongfully detained Americans and foreign nationals by authoritarian regimes, and to request your urgent attention to the cases of Cuban political prisoners Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, both of whom I sponsor as part of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project.

I was deeply grateful for President Biden’s leadership and deliberate action following the momentous July 11, 2021, pro-democracy protest movement in Cuba. Tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets in solidarity to demand justice, opportunity, and freedom from the brutal communist dictatorship that exists on the island. These courageous freedom fighters were emboldened by the United States’ historic support for their plight and for their hope of a democratic future for all Cubans.

I was especially proud to have the President’s support for H.Res.760, which expressed solidarity with Cuban citizens demonstrating peacefully for fundamental freedoms and condemned the regime’s acts of repression. Overwhelming bipartisan approval of this measure sent a powerful message to the world’s despots: the United States will not stand silent in the face of injustice. 

Sadly, the Cuban regime responded to the bravery and patriotism of July 11th by doubling down on totalitarian oppression with an unprecedented crackdown on dissent. This included illegally imprisoning over 1,800 Cubans, the majority of whom are young and Black. The United Nations has expressed concern about inhumane conditions in Cuban prisons, including overcrowding, lack of ventilation, poor medical care, malnutrition, and lack of clean water.

Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo, co-author of Cuban protest anthem “Patria Y Vida”, and Luis Manuel Otero, a visual artist and leader in the anti-censorship San Isidro Movement, have been jailed by the regime for nearly three years along with dozens of others who spoke up against tyranny. 

Maykel Castillo, a two-time Latin Grammy winning rapper, was captured by Cuban secret police two months before the July 11 demonstrations and has been imprisoned in the maximum-security Pinar del Rio prison ever since. Maykel was identified as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, Freedom House, and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, which found that he “has been imprisoned solely for his pro-democracy activism” and demanded his release.

Maykel has been subjected to violence, torture, 24-hour surveillance, solitary confinement, and suspension of visits and contact with his family. Six months into his nine-year sentence, he suffered a failure of his lymphatic system and has experienced severe symptoms that demand immediate medical attention. In addition, the prison has consistently refused to release Maykel’s medical records to his family. On the two-year anniversary of the July 11 mobilization, to protest his imprisonment and constant interrogations by regime officials, Maykel sewed his mouth shut and tattooed "Patria y Vida" on his arm.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a self-taught Afro-Cuban artist and activist named an “icon” by Time magazine for his advocacy, was arrested by regime forces on July 11th and detained at Guanajay maximum-security prison where he has been imprisoned to this day. After a trial conducted behind closed doors, Amnesty International cited his five-year sentence as “emblematic…of how [Cuba’s regime] uses the judicial system to criminalize critical voices.”

Luis Manuel is also in declining health. The artist has a dislocated knee, problems with one of his eyes and recent circulatory problems. He has been subjected to solitary confinement and lost a great deal of weight in recent months. In a letter published by the Miami Herald, Luis Manuel noted the “regime that has survived for 64 years…is once again trying to crush a generation…every young Cuban is a political prisoner.”

A few weeks ago, his application for “libertad condicional” was denied.  The lack of transparency and judicial discretion in the use of prison benefits, coupled with the selective and politically motivated interpretation of legal criteria, create a situation in Cuba where the human rights of persons imprisoned for political reasons are systematically violated, including the right to conditional release.

I appreciate President Biden’s decision to grant humanitarian parole to Maykel and Luis Manuel and their families, but it is clear that the Cuban regime has no plans to release them. Therefore, I request that the Administration extend these parole guarantees indefinitely to underscore that the United States will always protect those who fight for democracy.

Further, when State Department officials next engage in migration talks with the regime, I urge you to instruct them to prioritize the immediate, unconditional release of Maykel and Luis Manuel and commit to strict punitive measures against regime officials if they are not freed.

Additionally, I ask that you direct the State Department’s representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to elevate and support cases brought by victims of the Cuban regime, including the Petition for Immediate Relief filed on behalf of 42 imprisoned dissidents by the Cuban American Bar Association on November 17, 2021.

Finally, as Maykel and Luis Manuel’s sponsor and principal advocate in Congress, I encourage you to join me in raising public awareness of the Cuban regime’s treatment of them and hundreds of other pro-democracy activists to ensure that their sacrifice on behalf of Patria y Vida – fatherland and life – was not made in vain.


Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Member of Congress