Do Hunger Strikes Work as a Strategy to Pressure the Cuban Government? / 14ymedio

Guillermo Fariñas, UNPACU Activist: “With this [hunger strike] I am giving the Castro regime leaders to decide if they want to assassinate me publicly.”

Eliécer Ávila, President of Somos+ (We Are More): “I don’t see how the death of leaders who should motivate people and push changes can be helpful.”

14ymedio, 10 August 2016 – This Tuesday, activist Carlos Amel Oliva has ended four weeks on hunger strike after spending the last five days in hospital due to the deteriorating state of his health. Eight members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) had seconded his protest and decided not to eat in solidarity with the opponent’s demands, including State Security returning his personal belongings, the confiscation of which he considered a violation of his rights.

On 20 July, regime opponent Guillermo Fariñas also began a hunger and thirst strike, for which he has received hospital care on several occasions in recent days. Winner of the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, he is demanding that the Cuban government cease its repression against dissidents and that the authorities agree to a dialog with the opposition.

In the last twenty years Fariñas has undertaken a total of 25 hunger strikes, the last of these six years ago when he demanded the release of a group of opponents from the 2003 Black Spring. On that occasion the opponent went 135 days without eating, the great part of the time hospitalized and receiving parenteral nutrition and hydration.

Fariñas began that strike on February 24, 2010, one day after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after staging a hunger strike for 86 days while incarcerated.

Amnesty International considered Zapata Tamayo a prisoner of conscience and many analysts agree that his death was decisive in the negotiations subsequently held between the Cuban government, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the Spanish government that ended with the release of many political prisoners.

Previously, a hunger strike had been maintained to its final consequences by Pedro Puis Boitel, who died in prison in May 1972 after 53 days without food or medical care. The young man was buried in an unmarked grave in Colon Cemetery in Havana.

Since January 1959 it has been common for activists and opponents to use hunger strikes as a form of protest against the government and to demand improvements in prison conditions or political reforms. Currently some opponents believe that this strategy of peaceful struggle is not effective.

However, other dissidents cite the importance of the hunger strike as a way to attract the attention of international organizations to pressure the government and bring about political change.

On Tuesday, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights called on all opponents to abandon their fasts, considering that it is not an effective method of struggle and activists are people who are needed “with all their energy, strength, intelligence and courage in the demand for freedom, democracy and better living conditions for Cubans.”

Guillermo Fariñas, who currently is continuing his hunger strike, has recently stated in an interview that he has a responsibility given that he is a person known internationally for the use of this method of protest. “With this I’m giving time for Castro’s rulers, extending my possible death, so that they can assess, among and political and ideological international allies and opponents, which really has to do with my demand, if they are going to publicly murder me,” he said.

Eliecer Avila, who on Tuesday wrote a letter asking Carlos Amel Oliva to abandon his strike, emphasized the importance of activists who are still alive today being, one day, public representatives of the citizens if they wish. The leader of Somos+ (We Are More) ended his letter with the words: ” Do not give away your life to these bastards, compadre!”