Hunger Strikes as a Weapon / Rosa Maria Rodriguez Torrado

Martha Beatriz Roque. Photo taken from: “”
It was after six in the evening and the lighting of the hall barely did justice to light the apartment of Martha Beatriz Roque. There were still some people there who joined the collective hunger strike — a total of 28 people fasting in Cuba — for the release of Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, who should have been released on September 9th but whom the authorities arbitrarily kept prisoner.

I was disinformed, like every citizen living in a dictatorship — without access to a free press — and I was surprised to find they’d abandoned the demand. Martha, who came out to greet me with the slow and fragile appearance pf the prolonged fast, told me that State Security had talked to Vázquez’s wife that day and an officer informed her that she would soon have a spouse at home. No triumphalism at the outcome shone through the subdued tone of her voice, simply exhaustion for the sacrifice implied in refusing an act vital for human survival, such as food, in order to turn it into a weapon of struggle.

When they curtail liberties with their long list of totalitarian wrongs, they give more reasons to exercise and defend — sometimes even from anonymous illegality — democratic values, despite the threats of imprisonment or exile that hang threateningly over their entire Cuban archipelago.

There are precedents for fellow democrats who have taken the alternative of voluntary starvation in the face of abuse, which is to confront despotism with hunger from the appetite for justice for all Cubans.

I still remember, in recent times, the long strike of Guillermo Fariñas, who contributed to the release of political prisoners in 2010, and those that claimed the lives of Orlando Zapata and Wilmar Villar. It seems that for some leaders, excessive and totalitarian power generates the morbidity in them to want to see their opponents squalid, rather than establishing a democratic state of law, social justice and the common good for all Cubans.

Once again, the physical deterioration and dry lips of the strikers were not signs of weakness but of strength to denounce those who cling to power, and who from the moral point of view increasingly weaken before the world. Once again the cruelty of the authorities ceded before the decorum of a handful of decent Cubans. There are no prisons for freedom and justice, as those who live as prisoners of their hatred would like, to keep all of Cuba locked in a punishment cell and put bars on the rights of an entire people.

September 19 2012