Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cuban hunger strikes deserve our attention

Cuban hunger strikes deserve our attention
Posted on September 24, 2012 by Carlos Estevez

While dozens of activists flocked to Washington Square Park for last
weekend's Folk Festival, a couple dozen Cuban dissidents conducted
hunger strikes throughout Cuba. The protesters in the park consisted
mainly of fringe groups opposed to capitalism — socialists and remnants
of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Cuban dissidents sought the
release of Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, a man who remained incarcerated even
after fully serving his prison sentence. The Cuban government failed to
provide a reason for prolonging his captivity — imposing a judgment
without trial, as per usual.

The OWS activists sang tunes about protest while the anti-capitalists
held up banners denouncing greed and debt. They presented an array of
serious issues coupled with dubious solutions. The socialists in
particular advocated an alternative form of government able to
circumvent most of the ills faced by the United States. Their methods
were far tamer than a hunger strike, and yet they garnered far more
media attention.

Those demonstrating in favor of socialism packed their belongings at
nightfall and simply returned to enjoying the full benefits of the
capitalist society in which we live. For those demonstrating against the
self-declared socialist government in Cuba, nightfall only meant the
inevitable continuation of hunger and exhaustion. In recent years, these
hunger strikes have ended in death simply because of the Cuban
government's adversity to negotiation.

Surprisingly, such a blatant abuse of human rights did not receive
widespread media attention in the United States. Within our campus, even
among those immersed in activism and politics, few could speak of the
Cuban dissident movement with authority. This creates a paradoxical
situation in which a society deeply concerned with freedom and human
rights ignores the plight of a country located only ninety miles away
from our coast.

Two major factors account for the lack of mainstream debates on Cuba:
national security and public opinion. Cuba does not pose a liability to
U.S. security nor does it possess significant economic assets. As a
result, Cuba's opposition movements have seldom garnered the media
attention given to many countries of the Arab Spring. Yet Cuba's
democratic spring has dragged on for the past 20 years. Dissident
movements against the authoritarian government have been met with
imprisonment, torture and even execution.

Many believe Cuba boasts exemplary education and health care systems —
even though the country is poor. These myths form part of the official
government propaganda, which advertises Cuba as a country oppressed by
U.S. influence. For example, the socialists at Washington Square Park
advertised their message through the iconic image of Che Guevara. A
prima facie, his image evokes an exalted notion of revolution, hope and
the struggle for the working classes. The less glamorous truth regarding
Guevara involves the routine execution of prisoners without trials and
his role in creating Cuba's current government. This duality helps us
understand a country that some decry for its human rights records while
others laud for its apparent progress.

Back in Cuba, dissidents halted their hunger strike after the government
announced Chaviano's ensuing release. The courage of thirty citizens
prevailed against a 50-year-old dictatorship. This episode highlights a
continuous struggle for freedom within Cuba that will gain momentum as
more people learn the truth. Unfortunately, this attention has yet to
gain a foothold in the United States.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 24 print
edition. Carlos Estevez is a contributing writer. Email him at


No comments:

Post a Comment