Consciente estoy de mi próximo fallecimiento y lo considero un honor
July 6, 2010 8:18 AM   Subscribe

On Saturday, Cuba issued an unprecedented public report on the status of an imprisoned dissident. Guillermo Fariñas Hernández began his hunger strike in February, the day after the first Cuban hunger striker death in almost forty years. He is now near death.

As a rule, Cuba maintains an official near-silence on political prisoners. Its publicly-broadcast interview with Guillermo Fariñas' doctor and publication in the state newspaper Granma this weekend broke with standard practice and startled international observers.

This is Fariñas' twenty-third hunger strike. A photo of his shrinking figure was taken in April. Though Fariñas has been on parenteral (IV) nutrition since March, a blood clot that has developed in his jugular vein poses a significant immediate risk to his life. The English-language blog Uncommon Sense is posting updates on his situation. Friends of the prisoner are managing Fariñas' own blog and a Twitter account.

In February, fellow prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo became the first dissident to die during a hunger strike since 1972. Granma dismissed Zapata's death as a "case of political manipulation" and announced that the "lack of martyrs within the Cuban counterrevolution is proportional to its lack of scruples." Nevertheless, his death brought Cuba sharp international criticism and produced a new wave of hunger strikers, Fariñas among them.

In response to the official piece about his health in Granma, Fariñas dictated a brief statement by telephone yesterday, saying that "I am conscious of my nearing death and I consider it an honor."

Fariñas was one of the signatories to a recent letter addressed to the Congress of the United States, requesting the reversal of a long-standing ban on travel to Cuba for American citizens. On July 1 a House panel took first steps in that direction, voting 25-20 in favor of lifting the ban.
posted by hat (21 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Great post, hat. Thank you for putting this together.

The mere existance of the Granma article might have come as a surprise, but when you consider that the actual content focuses exclusively on the medical technicalities --it's an interview of the doctor in charge of his care-- and all that is being medically done to "save him", along with the mounting international pressure regarding his care, you can't help but think that the article is an ass-covering move, the kind of propaganda spewed by a menaced dictatorship.

Not everyone sees the Cuban regime this way. My grandfather still considers Fidel one of his heroes, on account of his "having had the balls to stand up against the imperialists". Sometimes when I read up on Latin American last-century history I tend to agree with him; but then when I consider that the regime is supported mostly by those without the means or werewithal to escape an island-turned-prison, well, I have to wonder just what happened to the lofty freedom ideals which originally provided an excuse for the revolution. Some animals are more equal than others, I guess.
posted by papafrita at 8:51 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

I think it's a waste and there are more proactive ways you can be protesting something.
posted by Malice at 8:55 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

there are more proactive ways you can be protesting something.

I would ordinarily agree with you, but maybe this is as proactive as it gets from within a Cuban prison.
posted by availablelight at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

I think it's a waste and there are more proactive ways you can be protesting something.

Yeah, can't he just Tweet about it or something?
posted by kmz at 9:12 AM on July 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

Before anyone gets all righteous and/or horrified, remember that the Guantanamo hunger-strikers are force fed.

Pretty sad when a Communist country noted for human rights violations treats its prisoners better than we do.
posted by Malor at 9:28 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

My grandfather still considers Fidel one of his heroes, on account of his "having had the balls to stand up against the imperialists".

Given our history around the world of funding anyone that would 'fight the communists', no matter how vile, fomenting unrest and even proxy wars, assassinating leftist leaders just because they were leftist, and outright invading when our other destabilization attempts failed, that's not at all an unreasonable viewpoint.

Not saying that Castro et al are good guys, not by ANY means, but there's some justification for the line of thinking.
posted by Malor at 9:32 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Any time I hear about some moron on a hunger strike, I can happily recall this sketch!
posted by ReeMonster at 9:37 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

'I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.' - Havelock Vetinari
Enlightened despotism is the biggest oxymoron out there. When your only choices are Batista or Castro, a czar or Lenin, Chiang Kai Shek or Mao Zedong, it's no choice at all.
posted by kmz at 9:48 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

It takes balls to go on a hunger strike. It's pretty tough to have the will to keep going when you know you're killing yourself.

I worked as a chef in a detention center one summer and at one point a couple of guys went on hunger strike in protest at being detained. They had been going for a few days without eating and were weakening to the point of the management considering medical intervention.

Anyway, one night the guards ordered two large pizzas, knocked on their doors and a pizza in front of each of them. That actually ended things, thankfully.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:14 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

In fact, hunger strikes have been fairly effective for people of considerable stature who were wrongly imprisoned, like gandhi, suffragettes, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:18 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

[moron... a waste....]

Doesn't it bother you to make fun of a dying man?

I'm curious - why is this "a waste"? He's most likely going to spend the rest of his life in jail - why is that somehow more useful?

I'm not entirely sure this is the best idea - but I salute him for his resolution - he is hoping to save the lives of many of his fellow prisoners this way, and who knows, perhaps he will?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:27 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

(...) that's not at all an unreasonable viewpoint.

I know, right? For instance, I do believe a strong case can be made that, while Guatemala used to be a comparably developed country up until mid-last century, after the CIA overthrow of the (democratically elected) Arbenz government in Guatemala in '54 the country fell into a turmoil from which it has not yet recovered... after being a regional economic powerhouse, it turned into the classical banana republic. Someone should write a book about this.*

Anyway, I think that's why my grandfather has always hated what he calls "the empire", with a personal passion. He saw all this with his own eyes, and after witnessing this as a young man it's understandable that he feels this way, even today.

* If someone has, please let me know because I'd love to read it.
posted by papafrita at 11:35 AM on July 6, 2010

Although I have a generally positive assessment of the Cuban revolution and Cuba, I hope that the Cuban government can find a way to actually increase free speech on the island so that all political prisoners *actually* are agents of a foreign power, instead of people who just disagree. I hope that the Cuban government can free the seriously ill prisoners, as Fariñas is demanding, even if it is depressingly unlikely.

It's very important to remember that Cuba is in a situation where it was the US and US mafia-controlled sugar cane plantation, brothel and casino of the US before 1959 and has a real chance of coming under baleful US hegemony again. So although a lot of it is due to single-party authoritarianism, even with a bit of democracy, some of it is due to real calculations around never returning to that time for Cuban people in general. Another example is in Internet access, which is restricted through a combination of the Cuban government foolishly trying to avoid the question and the material fact that access to Internet in Cuba is through an originally Soviet/Cominform satellite network with a Venezuelan fiber optic cable operational "sometime in 2011."

Echoing Malor, we should be concerned about human rights violations and the lack of democracy in Cuba, but Americans should give some thought to their history with Cuba, and the fact that the worst human rights abuses on that island are being perpetrated by their government right now.
posted by Gnatcho at 11:51 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Any time I hear about some moron on a hunger strike, I can happily recall this sketch!

You're an asshole for saying this.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:22 PM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

thank you hat for posting this.

i suspect it would inspire more sympathetic comments – or less false equivalence – were this happening in Iran, China, North Korea or some other less romanticized authoritarian state.
posted by noway at 3:08 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

All my academic colleagues think nothing of going on holiday to Cuba. Depresses the hell out of me.
posted by A189Nut at 3:54 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went to Cuba in 2002 and 2005, for the Pan American Masters cycling races (my father was competing, I was just on the roster as team support). I forget how many teams there were altogether besides the Cuban & the US teams - Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, maybe 3 or 4 others? For the past few years, the restrictions/red tape for getting the US team permission to get to Cuba had gotten too difficult, and the competition was held in other South/Central American countries. But the September 2010 competition is back on for Havana, and if my father is going to race, I'm definitely tagging along again.

I'm against the embargo; whatever purpose it might have served initially, it failed as a method of ending Fidel Castro's regime, and to continue it now just seems petty. I agree with the comments in the letter to Congress linked above "the isolation of the people of Cuba benefits the most inflexible interests of its government, while any opening serves to inform and empower the Cuban people and helps to further strengthen our civil society."

I would hate to see Cuba overrun by corporate tourism and Disney-fied. But I'd hate for things to go on for the current generations as they have for the past. I just hope that the middle ground can be reached peacefully.
posted by oh yeah! at 7:29 PM on July 6, 2010

posted by Gnatcho at 11:23 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Damn, Gnatcho. Thanks for the update.
posted by hat at 9:04 PM on July 7, 2010

For those who see a hunger strike as an empty gesture, from the above link: President Raul Castro has been stung by the strength of international criticism following the death of Mr Tamayo in February.
posted by hat at 2:58 AM on July 9, 2010

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