Another Hunger Striker Nears Death in a Cuban Prison / Luis Felipe Rojas

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina with his children in happier times

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina is a lifelong Cuban activist working for democracy and human rights in our country, founder the Alternative Studies Center of Cuban Youth for Democracy. In recognizing him as a Prisoner of Conscience in 1999, Amnesty International wrote: “Political activist, Nestor Rodriquez Lobaina, was arbitrarily arrested on 11 July 1999, for exercising his right to freedom of expression when he began a hunger strike in support of the Tamarindo 34 hunger strikers. His whereabouts are unknown. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and is urging his immediate release.”

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina Needs the Eyes of the World Upon Him
by Luis Felipe Rojas

Just like Sisyphus forced to push his stone uphill for eternity, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina is enduring his latest arbitrary incarceration as a punishment for his unwavering commitment to civil disobedience. As I write these lines, Nestor has been on a hunger strike for more than 20 days.

His latest trials began when he was arbitrarily arrested in front of his 10-year-old daughter, Dayana, on December 9 of last year. He was beaten and forced into a police car, according to this child’s report, while she was left on her own standing in the street. By the time she made it home that night she was hysterical.

Although no formal charges have been filed against Nestor, his father learned that the arrest was apparently carried out in retaliation for an incident that had occurred several months earlier, in August of 2010. On the day in question Nestor’s house was stoned by government sympathizers, students recruited for the task, and political police agents. As these assault troops destroyed his home, Nestor, his brother and three other activists were taken into custody by a team from the Secret Police (the feared “G2”), and thrown into cells in the city of Guantanamo.

According to his accusers, Nestor “hurt a young girl” during this attack on his home, but in fact this “child” is 18 years old. An active member of the Communist Youth Union, she ultimately admitted that she was not involved in the incident, but was “passing by” in a bicycle-taxi, and  claimed to have been hit by a thrown bottle.

After more than two months of being held without charges among murderers, rapists, thieves, swindlers and other men who have lost their way in life, Nestor decided to begin a hunger strike to demand his rights. As happened with Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in similar circumstances just over a year ago, when Nestor refused food the prison guards retaliated by turning off the water in his cell. When he finally was granted access to water again he refused to drink and is now being kept alive through an IV.

In addition to the apparent intention to charge him with “inflicting harm” he is also expected to be charged with “public disorder” — as a victim of the attack on his home. Together these accusations would carry a five-year sentence.

Nestor already served a six-year sentence under similar circumstances, at which time he was declared a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International. During that prison term he was savagely beaten by a common prisoner with the last name of Duvergel, a former police office following orders from State Security (according to Duvergal’s own testimony, years later). Nestor’s jaw was fractured in this attack requiring a long convalescence.

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina is on a hunger strike that may lead to his death.  All he is asking for is to be released, as he considers himself to be innocent.  His family is asking for people to join them in support, in hopes that the eyes of the world can help free this peaceful campaigner for Human Rights. We, his brothers in the opposition, fear that this could end in yet another death in Cuban prisons, and so we issue this warning and plea for help.

March 8, 2011