The Cuban Regime’s Destructive Acts Against the Dissidence Have Come to Seem Normal to the World
The Cuban Regime's Destructive Acts Against the Dissidence Have Come to
Seem Normal to the World / Ivan Garcia
Ivan Garcia, Translator: Russell Conner
Monday, September 17th marked the first week of a hunger strike carried
out by the well-known economist and opposition figure Martha Beatriz
Roque Cabello, 67 years old, "to demand the freedom of political
prisoner Jorge Vázquez Chaviano and an attempt to force the government
of Raúl Castro to comply with mediocre current legislation", she tells me.
The veteran dissident was in a delicate state of health. "She has
suffered various blood sugar problems and on Friday the 13th she
suffered a respiratory blockage", said Idania Yanes Contreras, president
of the Central Opposition Coalition and spokeswoman of the group of 6
dissidents on hunger strike in Martha Beatriz's small apartment.
It has been a chain reaction. There were 30 opposition figures found
going without food in various provinces of the nation. For decades,
hunger strikes have formed part of the dissent's battle strategy against
the olive green regimen. It has had its cost in human lives.
Since 1966, when the political prisoner Roberto López Chávez died in the
Modelo Prison on Isla de Pinos, various opposition figures have died as
a consequence of hunger strikes. Among the most talked-about is that of
student leader Pedro Luis Boitel, who died the 25th of May of 1972 in
the Havana prison Castillo del Príncipe, after 53 days without eating
food. Orlando Zapata Tamayo, one of the accused of the Black Spring,
lost his life due to a hunger strike. His death, the 24th of February of
2010, was what triggered the government to negotiate the release and
exile of almost a hundred political prisoners with the Catholic church
and the Spanish government.
On repeated occasions, the government has declared that it will not
yield to the petitions of the dissidents. Many opposition figures, like
Martha Beatriz, feel impotent. "It is one of the few paths that we have
to show our indignation. The world already sees as somewhat normal the
destructive acts of the Cuban regime against dissent. It has all become
routine", she emphasizes, and makes a brief recount of the events. "In
these two years, the arbitrary detentions, the acts of repudiation, the
harassment and physical aggressions have gone up considerably. We demand
respect", she says in a very low voice.
She is laid out on a single bed illuminated by various candles.
"Electric light bothers me. I get nausea and very cold feet. I drink
water every now and then and chew little slivers of ice. That gives me
relief", she clarifies. I want to take a picture of her. She says no:
"Iván, I wouldn't let anyone else but you, but I don't want pictures
taken of me in this state." Martha is very vain and has always liked to
get herself ready.
At her bedside rests a worn leather Bible. The hardened dissident has
been jailed on two occasions. In 1997 she served three years along with
Vladimiro Roca Antúnez, Félix Bonne Carcassé and René Gómez Manzano for
issuing the document The Fatherland Belongs to Everyone. Six years
later, in March of 2003, she was the only woman who served jail time
among the group of 75 opposition figures arrested. She was freed in 2005
on conditional parole due to her deteriorated health. In this hunger
strike, Martha is accompanied by five members of the Cuban Community
They are Yadira Rodríguez, Yasmany Nicles, Rosa María Naranjo, Fermín
Zamora and Ibis Rodríguez. Yadira and Yasmany, a married couple, began
the strike seeking a response on the authorities' part about their house
fire on the 21st of April of 2012 in the Vista Hermosa neighborhood of
San Miguel del Padrón. According to Yasmany, the Interior Ministry's
experts arrived at the conclusion that the fire had been set. The couple
accuses the Special Services of the act.
In Roque Cabello's small apartment, in the Santos Suárez district, there
is a constant bustle. Some neighbors ask about the strikers' state of
health. Two opposition members sleep on a sheet laid out on the floor. A
young striker stays stretched out on the sofa. Idania Yanez takes the
continuous telephone calls.
Nobody in the room seems to pay attention to the television, which plays
a Discovery Channel documentary. One week after beginning the hunger
strike, the dissidents are not there to watch television. Their bodies
already begin to weaken. Fitful sleep or the reading of a book turn out
to be the best pastimes. In the hallway of the building, right before
the front door of Martha Beatriz's apartment, a large painting of Fidel
Castro appears to observe it all.
"It is one of the ironies of State Security. They hung the portrait
years ago, saying that the hallway is a common area of the property",
states Idania. The dissidents maintain that in the adjoining apartment
an intelligence command post is running. "At all hours they try to
bother us. Music too loud. Castro speeches, in short, anything at all to
irritate us", Yasmany says.
This collective hunger strike, undertaken by 30 peaceful opposition
members, does not guarantee that the regime will hear their claims. And
the worst is that it could have fatal consequences for their lives. They
know it. And they face up to it.
Text and photo: Iván García
Note: A few hours after this work was written, State Security freed the
political prisoner Jorge Vázquez Chaviano and the opposition members
agreed to put an end to their hunger strike. Meanwhile, at Zoé Valdés's
blog and other websites, the open letter that Tania Quintero directed
from exile in Switzerland to her friend, the renowned dissident Martha
Beatriz Roque Cabello, was making its rounds.
Translated by: russell conner
September 26 2012