Expected Prize / Iván García

It had already been leaked to Cuban dissidents that the journalist and psychologist Guillermo Fariñas enjoyed a big lead in the voting for the 2010 Sakharov Prize. Among the local opposition the distinction has received more applause than criticism.

Still, ‘Coco’ — as we call him — was surprised and the phone in his house in the La Chirusa slum, 150 miles east of Havana in Santa Clara, Villa Clara province hasn’t stopped ringing.

Fariñas told me that when the phone rang in the middle of the night he thought the worst. Usually when the phone rings at that unusual hour it’s for bad news. But this time it was not.

The Cuban poet and journalist Raúl Rivero, exiled in Madrid, was the first to congratulate him. Then pandemonium broke out. His cell phone didn’t stop ringing. From Australia, Prague, Moscow, Miami, Santiago de Chile, Reykjavik and even Greenland. While his friends started to invade the house.

People in the neighborhood, where ‘Coco’ is very popular, seeing the flood of people thought the worst. When Fariñas himself announced the good news,they erupted in celebration with a bottle of rum that some late night kids brought him from one of the discotheques in the city.

By nine o’clock the house was  already swarming with journalists, dissidents, friends and family. When we called from Havana, Coco interrupted the improvised celebration to say a few words.

“This award is for all those who have opposed, in one way or another the government of Fidel Castro. To the citizen rebellion. I’m thinking now of the opposition in the early years of the Revolution, they saw what we took time to understand. To the many anonymous people who do not bow to the will of a regime. ”

In his appreciation, ‘Coco’ did not forget Pedro Luis Boitel, a Cuban political prisoner who died in 1972 after a long hunger strike, and all his fellow independent and opposition journalists.

“To all of them, this award is dedicated. To the brave Ladies in White, who were granted the distinction five years ago. But most especially, I tell you frankly, this is a prize for Orlando Zapata and that giant among women, Reina Luisa Tamayo, his mother. Zapata is and will be a precursor. When, in the future, Cuba has a democracy, we will always remember his attitude and the path that was opened by Orlando,” he said, visibly moved.

Fariñas is the third Cuban to receive the Sakharov Prize. Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, founder of the Varela Project, won in 2002. And in 2005, the Ladies in White.

“I hope to go to Havana to celebrate the prize with my brothers in the opposition who live in the capital. There are only a few days left for the government to meet the deadline it gave for releasing all the prisoners. As I have already announced, if on November 7 the 12 prisoners from the Black Spring of 2003 have not been released, I will begin another hunger strike the following day,” Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, the psychologist and independent journalist warned.

Friends and family hope that another strike will not be necessary.

October 21, 2010