Hunger Strikes, Weapon of Cuban Dissidents

A tragic fashion. Objectionable to many. The only option the opponents have. They believe that in this way they can force the regime. It is their war cry. But it is not a new weapon.

Already in 1972 a 53-day hunger strike took the life of opponent Pedro Luis Boitel. It was before the era of the internet and global media. Few learned of it. One of the principal dissident organizations on the island bears his name.

After 1959, it was one of the most-used measures by those imprisoned for opposing Fidel Castro and his revolution. According to Archivo Cuba, of the 59 to date, at least 12 political prisoners have died from hunger strikes. Others gave up or, at the request of family and friends, reconsidered their position.

Oscar Elias Biscet, a gynecologist who began his criticism of Castro condemning abortion and demanding respect for basic human and political rights, used fasting as a tool to draw worldwide attention and to put the stubborn and rigid commander’s back against the wall.

He failed. Nor did the opponent Orlando Zapata Tamayo succeed, he died after 86 days without food in the hellish prisons of the island.

Right now, there are several Cubans who, as a way to protest for their demands, have chosen hunger strikes, more or less strict.

One of them is Egberto Escobedo Morales, who on April 16 declared a hunger strike in prison in Camagüey. Escobedo was arrested in July 1995 and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, for the alleged crimes of “spying, theft with force, and enemy propaganda.” With his strike, he demanded that the regime dialogue with internal opposition. His situation critical, ten days ago he was taken to hospital Combinado del Este in Havana.

Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and freelance journalist, has maintained his strike from the February 24, as reported in this blog. A twitter from the opposition Martha Beatriz Roque, reported that on the night of Sunday 27 June, a group of dissidents was going to spend the night outside the hospital Arnaldo Milian, of Santa Clara.

Since March 11 Fariñas has been in intensive care there, but his health has deteriorated alarmingly. His current physical status is unknown. Although he is permitted visitors, similar to the June 19 case of Ariel Sigler Amaya, recently released from prison, they have not let anyone take photos or videos.

It is not the first time that Fariñas has decided to use hunger strikes as a weapon of pressure. Is the 23rd. A record.

One who uses this method for the first time is Juan Juan Almeida García, son of the legendary Juan Almeida Bosque, one of the stalwarts of the Revolution. He has gone two weeks without food but he is taking liquids. He has decided to undertake a hunger strike because the government will not let him travel abroad, to visit his wife and daughter. It remains to be seen whether the son of the guerilla can move the general.

Unlike Zapata, Escobedo and Fariñas, Almeida junior is someone close to the Castro family. For a while he lived in the home of Raul Castro. And he became a close friend of Alexander, Raul’s only son. He does not make political claims. He just wants to respect for his rights and to be allowed to leave and return to his country.

Others who have decided to use hunger strikes as a weapon of pressure in 2010, are accused of trafficking in persons, fourteen of them in the Ariza prison in the province of Cienfuegos.

In Havana, the Cuban Yamil Dominguez, 37, has gone 75 days without eating, only drinking water, in the maximum security prison, Combinado del Este.

Yamil was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 10 years for the crime of human trafficking, in an illegal trial according to independent lawyers. After three years in prison, and after exhausting all legal requirements established by the Constitution, Dominguez opted for the hunger strike.

Independent sources report two Cuban political prisoners in their respective prisons who have declared a hunger strike, Diosdado and Abel Linares López Díaz Pérez, as well as the opponent Guillermo del Sol Perez, who recently released a letter stating that he has been proclaimed Fariñas’ successor, if he should die.

The fatal fashion of dissidents and prisoners, political or common, of refusing food and liquids, promises to continue to grow. But no one in the regime has taken them seriously.

There is no history of a hunger strike in Cuba that has softened the hearts of the Castro brothers. Still, the Cuban prisoners and opponents believe that hunger strikes are a weapon to pressure the regime. So far, none have succeeded.

Iván García

Photo: ABC. Juan Juan Almeida, then 5 years old, standing next to a model of the yacht Granma and Raúl Castro.