Cuban dissident becomes weak from hunger strike; church may step in
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
Internationally-known Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas is growing
gravely weak from a two-week-old hunger strike to protest human rights
abuses while the Catholic Church has emerged as a possible mediator
between the opposition leader and the government of Raúl Castro.
Fariñas, who is refusing any food or water, said Tuesday that he feels
"very weak" but vowed to continue with a hunger strike that now includes
some 20 other activists from across the island.
"I can hardly take a bath by myself and feel very tired," Fariñas said
by telephone from his home in the central city of Santa Clara. A doctor
that visited his home Tuesday recommended hospitalization but Fariñas
The dissident, who received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in
2010, said he was beaten on July 19 by two police officers when he
approached them to inquire about the detention of another member of the
opposition movement. Fariñas said was held inside a car for an hour and
was repeatedly beaten while officers warned him to suspend any plans for
community service projects.
"They are beating people up so that one does not get involved with
socially-conscious projects anymore," he said. "While they were hitting
me, they told me they I could not distribute toys to children anymore,
that I could not organize communal birthday parties, day care centers,
excursions to the beach, rebuild any more homes for people..."
Fariñas said he believes the Cuban agents were trying to instill fear,
"beat me with impunity" and without consequences.
Instead, the dissident launched a hunger strike, refusing to ingest food
or water, until the Castro government publicly declares that it will
stop beating opponents and harass small business owners or the
self-employed known as cuentapropistas. Fariñas also is demanding a
meeting between opposition members and a government official designated
Last week, the opposition leader was admitted to the emergency room at a
local hospital due to dehydration but he quickly requested to return
home. Many fear for his health because of his frequent use of hunger
strikes as a means of protest.
Dr. Eneida O. Roldan, chief executive officer at Florida International
University's Health system, said Fariñas could be facing a precarious
"The average time a human being can be without drinking water is about
two weeks albeit dependent on the physical and health conditions of the
person and the environmental conditions of his or her location," Roldan
said. "Without food is a bit longer: usually four weeks. Again with the
caveat of current body fat and physical and health conditions of the
Fariñas is the most high-profile of the dissidents who have begun fasts
and hunger strikes across the island to protest the beatings and
arbitrary raids frequently launched against activists.
Carlos Amel Oliva, the youth leader of the Unión Patriótica de
Cuba(Patriotic Union of Cuba) also has been on a hunger strike that has
stretched for more than 20 days. Another 17 members of that organization
also have declared a hunger strike or staged fasts, including two
members who are hospitalized in Santiago de Cuba.
Meanwhile, high-level representatives of the Catholic Church in Cuba met
with Fariñas over the weekend to discuss a possible resolution.
On Saturday, he was visited by Santa Clara Bishop Arturo González
Amador, who returned Sunday with the first secretary of the Apostolic
Nunciature in Cuba, the Rev. José Manuel Alcaide Borreguero. The latter
was there as an envoy of Pope Francis and he presented several
proposals, according to Frente Antitotalitario Unido (United
Antitotalitarian Front), the organization headed by Fariñas.
The opposition leader said he agreed that the Holy See and the
Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba could act as mediators with the
Cuban government but opposed the involvement of the newly appointed
archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad García, because it was said
"that he was there to help to build a prosperous and sustainable
socialism, therefore he ceased to be neutral."
Borreguero could not be immediately reached for comment. But he recently
told Diario de Cuba that the church was not currently serving as
mediator. "For now we are not mediators; I have to communicate with my
superiors because I can't do anything of my own accord," he said.
"To have a mediator, both sides have to accept it," said Fariñas. "He
cannot say they are mediators, if the other party has not accepted yet."
Fariñas declined to elaborate, saying that Borreguero had requested
The Cuban Catholic Church has gained prominence in recent years serving
as a mediator between the governments of Cuba and the United States
during months of secret negotiations, and interceding in the release of
the 75 dissidents jailed in 2010.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State, through its spokesman John
Kirby, publicly expressed concern about the physical state of Fariñas,
Oliva and other activists on a hunger strike and expressed solidarity
with those who struggle for human rights and fundamental rights as
freedom of expression and association.
Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in a statement that the
activists and Cuban dissidents "feel compelled to resort to these
measures for the world to see the evil of tyranny they face every day."
He added that it was "shameful " that President Barack Obama's "failed
policy of appeasement...has done nothing to help the defenders of
democracy, but has emboldened their oppressors."
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Source: Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas grows weak from a lengthy
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