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DYING FOR CUBA

The Cuban activist Guillermo Fariñas is willing to die for democracy.

He believes that if he loses his life in an act of protest, he might finally bring down the Castro dictatorship after 54 years in power – or at least convince other Cubans to rise up against it.

Fariñas’ relentless efforts to bring attention to the Communist regime’s oppressive rule and its imprisonment of political opponents, usually by embarking on hunger strikes himself, have gained the world’s attention – and the Cuban government’s. “With me, there is no middle ground,” he told me in a recent interview in Miami (the Cuban government granted him a travel visa recently, after many years of rejections).

“I go on a hunger strike when the government commits an inhuman act. That’s when I take the self-destructive measures, which put the government up against a wall.”

is one of the Cuban regime’s worst nightmares: a political activist who knows the monster’s weaknesses, having worked within the system. As a young man, Fariñas was a member of the Young Communists Union and enlisted in the Cuban army. He was wounded in 1980, during Cuba’s military intervention in Angola, and later went to the Soviet Union to receive training as a military officer. He was a trusted supporter of Fidel Castro’s government until 1989, when he broke ties with the Communists and protested the execution of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, who had been convicted of conspiring to traffic drugs to the United States and was sentenced to death by firing squad.

Afterward, Fariñas worked as a psychologist at a hospital in Havana. In 1995, he accused the hospital’s director of corruption and reported her to the police, but in a Kafkaesque turn of events, the police arrested Fariñas and kept him in jail for 20 months. It was his first arrest, and many more followed. Altogether, Fariñas has spent more than a decade behind bars.

The first time Fariñas went on hunger strike was in 1997, after he was arrested for supporting a group of political dissidents in the Cuban city of Santa Clara. Since then he has gone on another 22 hunger strikes, which has taken a deep toll on his health. In 2010, while fasting to protest the death of Orlando Zapata – a political dissident who died in prison after refusing to eat for more than 80 days – Fariñas suffered a thrombosis on the left side of his neck, but that has not deterred him from speaking out against political oppression in Cuba. Fariñas is currently a spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Cuba, a political opposition group that says it has some 6,000 members on the island.

During our interview, Fariñas told me he plans to return to Cuba by mid-July, and that staying in the United States is not an option. “I respect my brothers who are here,” he said, “but in this historical moment, a group of brothers and sisters must be fighting in Cuba.”

Fariñas once said, referring to his hunger strikes, that there are moments in history when martyrs are necessary to bring about change. I asked him if he was willing to die for his cause. “If it is necessary, I will,” he said.

Fariñas recently picked up the Sakharov Prize in France, which is awarded to human rights advocates every year. He actually won the prize in 2010, but he had not left Cuba since 1983. I asked him what surprised him about the outside world. “What has shocked me the most is the technological gap,” he said. “Cuba is still in the 17th century.”

In the 21st century, after so many other nations have managed to overthrow authoritarian regimes, why is such a brutal and repressive dictatorship able to hold onto power in Cuba? According to Fariñas, there are three reasons: “A lack of unity within the opposition, the stubbornness of leaders and the indifference, even complicity, of many world governments.”

Fariñas believes that the Castro government won’t crack unless there is a large-scale “commotion.” I asked if that commotion could be achieved by another hunger strike. “I believe that if the Cuban regime were to let a Sakharov laureate die, that would harm the government,” he said, “and it would have to make concessions.”

I realized that this might be the last time I would see Fariñas. He knows that he and his two daughters, Haisa, 18, and Diosángeles, 11, may face terrible consequences for criticizing the Cuban regime abroad, yet he refuses to be silenced. “They might kill us at any moment,” he told me, without raising his voice or showing any emotion, as if he had repeated that phrase a million times.

As the interview came to an end, I told Fariñas that I found his willingness to die for his country to be astonishing. “That is your opinion,” he told me, respectfully. “But we consider nothing extraordinary about defending your fatherland.”

By Jorge Ramos Avalos.

(july 10, 2013)

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”

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