The Shadow of Death / Lilianne Ruiz

Hunger strikers
Hunger strikers
Liliane (in red dress) and Ladies in White with hunger strikers (seated)

It has not been on any national news. No newspaper has echoed the demand of the 27 Cubans across the island who are on a hunger strike demanding that the Castro clan’s government release Jorge Vázquez Chaviano.

Six of the 27 people on strike are in Havana, at the home of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, who is in imminent danger of death. This Sunday I saw her for the first time and I hope it is not the last. Presumably the government druids might be calculating that Martha Beatriz Roque’s death would only mean an international scandal that after reaching its peak would subside, as on other occasions after deaths caused by the regime.

In these 53 years of arbitrary sentences, executions, political assassinations covered by the revolutionary propaganda machine with the complicity of some foreign correspondents (such as the irritating South American employed by the BBC), with regards to deaths from hunger strikes we have learned, to our despair, how this bloody regime believes it can deal with the scandal occasioned by one more death, from the evidence of human behavior in the face of others’ pain, which consists of changing the channel unless they have very specific motivations that seem to be lacking in Cuba.

Also Vázquez Chaviano has served his initial sentence without the prosecutor acknowledging the political nature of his imprisonment. It’s old ploy to mislead the public dating from 1959, to make them believe that in Cuba there is no political opposition, that is it just about foreign interests and a band of mercenaries. The first place to read and understand the mechanism that has sustained this campaign is the trial of Hubert Matos. Incredible as it seems, this has determined the entire subsequent history of the Cuban political prisoner.

Chaviano was taken prisoner when a police search — ordered by State Security — found in his home a gallon of paint and a wooden bed that he himself was making to sleep on with his wife. He was sentenced to prison for a year and a half and when he completed the sentence he went one morning to see the Pope, like the rest of Cubans “called” to do so, and was arrested. On this occasion he received an “add-on” of another year and a half in prison. As from the beginning, he was without defense, without rights.

Chaviano’s true “sin” was to be the delegate in Sagua de Grande of the Human Rights Party of Cuba, and a member of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front.

On September 10, the day after he should have been released according to his original sentence, his brothers in the struggle declared a hunger strike to demand that he be freed immediately.

I saw Martha Beatriz like a corpse in her bed, unable to speak, unable to tolerate the three words I managed to say to her, “Do not die,” ready to die. But I didn’t take photos, I couldn’t do it.

Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” is also on hunger strike. He has lost consciousness on several occasions. What alarms me, and with this I want to alarm all sensible Cubans about what is happening in our country, is that the government of Raul Castro and company is planning to let these people die. I do not want them to become the decals on our T-shirts as long as we can still do something while they are alive.

Martha Beatriz cannot resist many more days, and all hunger strikes leave scars and our Antúnez is too valuable to lose. They are willing to sacrifice themselves but their genes are not common in this town of people who eat only at home in their own misery.

The government could just walk away and let them die and continue to sweep away a generation of very well cultured opponents, people who, frankly, I don’t see replacements for on the immediate horizon.

Wherever you are, protest. Don’t let them die.

September 18 2012