By declaring a hunger strike on July 20th, to the same rhythm of a beating undertaken with the precision of a karate expert, repressors on guard warned Guillermo Farinas that “I was becoming a dangerous person, that they didn’t want me out on the street, that this disciplinary measure – beatings, torture – was given to me so that I dedicate myself to the magazine and the newspaper, but not the streets.”
The third Cuban to be awarded the EU’s Sakharov human rights prize, has brought up a dilemma of Cuban society in extreme conditions: FREEDOM. In this case, we’re not talking about the abstract concepts which politicians used throughout history and across the world, but about concrete human rights: being able to express yourself publicly, meet without being interfered, have access to information.
The anti-Castro leader demands that an end is put to repressing his fellow peaceful opponents to a political system which resorts to violence as a last resort when their arguments fall through. Fidel Castro’s heirs know that popular support, which praised them for decades, is dying down day after day.
This is what Carlos Amel Oliva certifies, a prisoner who also declared a hunger strike, before Farinas. He denounces Police actions:
“They break into your house holding rifles and wearing bulletproof vests, as if they were dealing with a large operation, so as to intimidate us, not only the government’s opponents but those who sympathize with us too.”
The history of hunger strikes carried out by Cubans as a way of political protest began with the communist Julio Antonio Mella, who stood up to General-President Gerardo Machado in 1926. In spite of his renowned iron fist and insensitivity towards those who opposed him, the “Tropical Mussolini” (as he was labeled) gave in 18 days after the student leader began this unusual form of protest.
Four decades later, in the midst of the revolution baptized Socialist, freedom fighters who were the complete opposite to Mella, offered their lives, desperate when they were unable to find other more effective ways to protest, standing up against an authoritarian system which didn’t even give them the chance to publicly discuss their issues.
The respectable list features 17 cases; the first was Francisco Aguirre Vidaurreta in 1967, going through to Orlando Zapata Tapayo, who voluntarily fasted for 86 days in 2010. It was precisely then that the eternal supporting “Coco” Farinas embarked on his 135 days hunger strike, which was interrupted when Raul Castro’s government announced that they would release 100 prisoners of conscience.
History has shown us that in the face of political hunger strikes, our government’s deafness continues to prevail.
On May 5th 1981, the Irish independence fighter, an MP of British Parliament, Bobby Sands, died in the Maze prison, Northern Ireland, after having held a hunger strike for 66 days. The then Leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, criticized British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s inclemency, comparing Sands and his fellow six strikers’ undeniable heroism to – according to his own words on the TV – Christ’s few hours on the cross of Calvary.
The fact that these Irish hunger strikers were Catholic takes into account Fidel Castro’s preference for numbers: Zapata and Farinas were put up on the cross of Calvary a hundred times and didn’t receive the slightest bit of compassion from those who rule the country with the same shame-faced arrogance of the Roman Church.
Cuban hunger strikers today put their lives at risk without the slightest opportunity to strike up national turmoil with respect to the political nature of their actions, because the government has monopolized almost all of the access Cubans have to information.
Even so, anticipating that there may be cracks in a world where media democracy seems to be unstoppable, they try to isolate them from popular sensitivity, assigning them the stigma of “mercenaries working for Imperialism”.
The Sakharov human rights prize winner himself warned on July 20th, minutes before he began his extreme form of protest:
“Those who fight for freedom and democracy cannot be considered mercenaries.” -And he went on to comment – “Marti against Spain, Fidel up against Batista, they both received financial aid from abroad, especially from the United States. The Granma Yacht was bought with money from overthrown former president Carlos Prio. We fight in Cuba, we are Cubans, we don’t fight for foreign armies, and we are lovers of non-violence.”
Before entering his first bout of unconsciousness, Guillermo Farinas reiterated the magnitude of the problem: “It’s time to unite, to take to the streets and protest against all of the atrocities committed by this government.”