30 Cuban Hunger Strikers Win Release of an Opponent / Yoani Sanchez

Martha Beatriz Roque, a few minutes after ending her hunger strike. Photo: Yoani Sanchez

After a week on a hunger strike, several Cuban dissidents ended their fast this Tuesday afternoon. The number of opponents refusing to eat had reached 30 throughout the country, with their main demand the immediate release of the activist Jorge Vazquez Chaviano. Accused of the crime of “illicit economic activity,” he was sentenced to 18 months and was due to be released on September 9th. But instead of freeing him, the prison authorities transferred him to another prison in the central province of Santa Clara.

Vazquez Chaviano’s wife, along with other family members, staged a protest on Monday in front of the Guajamal prison where the prisoner had been transferred in the past. After this incident the relatives received a summons from the office of State Security in the city of Santa Clara. There they were informed of the pending release of the prisoner, which as of the time of writing this report has not yet been put into effect. However, the thirty activists decided to end the hunger strike, expecting in the coming hours that their principal demand would be met and Vazquez Chaviano would be returned to his home. The Supreme Court file — shown to the relatives — also confirmed the immediate release.

Opposition figures arrived throughout the day at the home of economist Martha Beatriz Roque, one of the principal figures of this particular protest of empty stomachs. At the stroke of six in the evening the journalist and psychologist Guillermo Farinas arrived; he has led similar hunger strikes, the best known of which was in 2010. Although the neighborhood was calm, cars parked on both sides of the street sheltered men who closely inspected everyone who approached. Inside the house the feeling was one of relief, of victory.

Since the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February 2010, the product of a prolonged hunger strike, for the same cause, ending in death — and similarly that of Wilmar Villar and his death in January of this year — the Cuban authorities have not had an easy time handling such situations. On one side is the international pressure, and on the other the fear that the death of an activist will trigger a revolt, which makes them cautious and leads them to give in to the pressure.

During the entire time the national press has ignored the hunger strike of these thirty activists. Only a few of the official blogs have spread jokes and raised suspicions about the strikers.

Solidarity of the international community

Several personalities and international organizations have demonstrated, from the beginning, their concern and support for the strikers. A statement from Amnesty International demanded an immediate explanation for why Jorge Vázquez Chaviano remained in prison. Social networks also joined the fight this time, to create something that is taking shape in Cuba today as a mixture of real struggle and virtual struggle.

The reality is, at least this time, a tragic outcome has been avoided.

19 September 2012