Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hunger Strikes: Do They Work or Not?

Yoani Sanchez - Award-winning Cuban blogger

Hunger Strikes: Do They Work or Not?
Posted: 09/20/2012 8:17 am

Diverse elements came together -- this time -- so that the hunger strike
of the many Cuban dissidents demanding the release of a prisoner was
successful. The very size of it was a critical factor in its positive
outcome. It started with a dozen activists refusing to eat, and by the
end more than thirty had joined in. Although Raul Castro's government
has frequently dealt with situations of this kind, the large number of
strikers greatly complicated its medical, police and informational

The obvious legal violation being committed against Jorge Vazquez
Chaviano focused the protest with respect to the country's legislation.
The authorities were trapped in their own legal code, compelled to
comply with the opinions issued by their courts. Although judicial
arbitrariness abounds throughout the country, there are few situations
that offer such obvious evidence of irregularities. Vazquez Chaviano's
case was one of those rare exceptions; a sentencing certificate on
letterhead with stamp and signature clearly gave the lie to the official

In 2010, when Guillermo Fariñas led the protest of empty stomachs the
alternative information networks were not as extensive as they are
today, nor as immediate and effective in calling people together. Within
twenty-four hours of the press conference announcing the start of the
hunger strike, most of the dissidents in the entire Island were aware of
what was happening. Twitter has become an irreplaceable tool to confront
the press monopoly held by the Communist Party. The hashtag
#HuelgadeHambre (Hunger Strike), and the names of those participating in
it, lit up this social network.

The rapid response of the international community also contributed to
the result achieved. Amnesty International's statement clarifying why
Vazquez Chaviano was still in prison alerted many inside and outside of
Cuba. Other statements from European politicians, in which they
expressed alarm for the health of the hunger strikers, contributed to
publicizing the event far beyond our national borders, making it clear
that people were worried and were watching what was happening. The times
in which it seemed as if "no one was listening" are definitely long gone.

Despite some criticisms of the strikers, the opposition was surprisingly
united around their demand. There were many who saw the fast as
diverting attention from other civic projects now gaining strength, but
they were the minority. In general, the hunger strikers received
numerous displays of solidarity and managed to unite around themselves
widely diverse sectors of Cuban civil society. Perhaps this was the
major reason that State Security communicated with Vazquez Chaviano's
family on Tuesday that he would be released quickly. The negative
political cost of the hunger strike was a distraction for the
government, while it functioned as a unifying force for the dissidents.

The Cuban opposition won this round, one to zero.

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