“There are moments in history which call for martyrs”
“If I die, the world will realize that the Government lets its opponents die and what happened to Orlando is not an isolated case”
Interview with Coco Fariñas by Mauricio Vincet, El País
The psychologist and dissident journalist Guillermo Fariñas carries 48 years and 23 hunger strikes on his shoulders. Since turning in his Union of Communist Youth membership card in 1989, in protest of the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa, he joined the opposition and since then has spent eleven and a half years in prison. He is considered a tough man. His last hunger strike in 2006, for unrestricted access to the Internet for all Cubans, lasted months and he had surgery on several occasions to save his life. It left many aftereffects and this time his family fears that a fatal outcome could occur quite quickly.
In his house in Santa Clara, accompanied by dozens of regime opponents, Fariñas met with EL PAÍS after seven days without food or water. He is extremely weak, though conscious, and can still walk. His eyes light up and he says, frightened, that he wants to die to become a ‘martyr’ and carry the baton passed by Orlando Zapata. He sees his body as one more instrument, “to achieve freedom for Cuba.” His mother, Alicia Hernández, and his wife, Clara, strongly oppose this protest, though they respect his decision. He is visited daily by two doctors, one a dissident and the other from the State, who keep a constant watch on his progress.
Question. What are your objectives with this strike?
Answer. First, that the Government pay a high political cost for the murder of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Second, if the authorities are not cruel and inhumane, that they immediately free the political prisoners who are sick and might soon become another Zapata. The third objective is, if I die, the world will realize that the Government lets its opponents die and that what happened to Zapata is not an isolated case.
Q. But what is your specific request?
A. That the Government free those 26 political prisoners who are sick, and that even their own doctors from the Interior Ministry think should be releases, because they are not going to survive in prison.
Q. And if they are not released?
A. I will continue until the final consequences…
Q. Do you want to die?
A. (Silence)… Yes, I want to die. Now is the time for the world to see that this Government is cruel, and there are moments in the history of countries which call for martyrs…
Q. Do you consciously want to become a martyr?
A. Even the Interior Ministry psychologists say that is my profile: I have the vocation to be a martyr… Orlando Zapata was the first link in the intensification of the fight for the freedom of Cuba. I was the one who grabbed the baton from him, and when I did someone else will take it.
Q. Are you sure? Do you think this will ignite a fever for change in your country?
A. I am a pessimist. I think the Government is not going to change. I do not have hope. The Cuban Government is hanging on, it is a very difficult time, and they are not going to change unless we have 50 opponents on hunger strike, this would create a problem for them at the level of the whole society.
Q. Your father fought with Che Guevara in the Congo. Your mother was always a revolutionary. You yourself were in the military and studied in the Soviet Union. How did you come to be a dissident?
A. It was a long process. My first disagreement was with what happened at the Peruvian Embassy in 1980. My job was to maintain order. There were tens of thousands of people who wanted to leave. In the USSR I realized there were many perversions of that regime which in theory we were supposed to imitate. In 1989, with the execution of Ochoa, it was the end for me. Since then I have not remained silent and I will not remain silent I die.
Q. What is going to happen now?
A. I already feel very weak, I have headaches and I am beginning to be dehydrated.The moment will come when I collapse and lose consciousness. Then my family will decide [his mother and wife say that at that time they will put him in the hospital and begin intravenous feeding].
Q. And when you wake up in the hospital…
A. If they put me in a closed cubicle where I cannot receive visits from my brothers in the struggle, I will ask that they remove the feeding tube. If they put my in a place where I can receive visits from my comrades, even through the glass in the intensive care unit, during the hours allowed for visits I will allow intravenous feeding, although I still will not eat or drink. In this case I could live as long as God chooses.
Q. What do your wife, your daughter, your mother think of this?
A. Well, when I made the decisions to start a hunger strike my mother went 16 hours without speaking to me. Now, even though she opposes it, she respects my decision. But I tell them that to have a country, the family has to suffer. I suppose Martí’s mother suffered, and also Antonio Maceo’s [two heroes in Cuban independence]