Oswaldo Paya | Christian Liberation Movement
Since March 5, several inmates at the Cuban prison known as Kilo 8 have been on a hunger strike. Among them are Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta and Jose Daniel Ferrer, prisoners of the “Cuban Spring.” Other political prisoners taking part include Leoncio Rodriguez Ponce, Lemberto Hernandez Planas and Nelson Valquez Lima. None has consumed any food, and all planned to continue their hunger strike until today to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the crackdown.
picture 1- ferrer brothers.jpgIn the days leading into the spring of 2003, the United States and its coalition of allies initiated their invasion of Iraq. Hiding behind the smoke as the first battles captured the world’s attention, Cuban security forces began assaulting defenseless families, forcing their way into homes and in many instances abusing women, children and the elderly. Soon came the summary hearings and sentences, some of which were for as long as 28 years.
The Cuban Spring prisoners were dispersed to jails around the country, from Pinar del Rio in the west to another one known for its inhumane treatment, the prison of Guantanamo. I am not referring to the detainees of different nationalities who for months have been confined without trial by the United States at Guantanamo Bay naval base, a fact that I consider unjust and which has rightly become a worldwide scandal. I am referring to the other Guantanamo, which is a scandal because it has not become a scandal.
This other Guantanamo is scattered among many prisons in the province of Guantanamo and around all of Cuba, including on the Island of Pines. The concentration camp food and the lack of water, the poor hygiene and the overcrowding, and the inhumane conditions and treatment are present in all of them. The health of almost all Cuban political prisoners, not just those of the Cuban Spring, has deteriorated, and many will suffer the consequences for life. Some peaceful political activists, such as Francisco Chaviano, have been in jail for more than 10 years.
As of yesterday, those arrested in the Cuban Spring incidents have served four years of unjust sentences. It does not matter that they were convicted because of arbitrary and false trials and laws that were illegally applied against them. One only has to read the official accounts of the summary trials to see that the reasons for which these people were sentenced have nothing to do with the charges against them.
There is, unfortunately, a growing tendency to talk only about the suffering of these inmates and to say nothing about how they came to be imprisoned in the first place, as if they were victims of bad luck and not of a regime that applies force unjustly.
The world should know that they were jailed for peacefully defending and promoting human rights. Many were unofficial, independent journalists who broadcast their opinions and criticisms in a transparent manner. Others participated in projects to promote and defend human rights and labor union rights. Still others participated in civic organizations that pursued peaceful changes toward democracy. The majority of Cuban Spring prisoners were and still are organizers of the Varela Project (http://www.oswaldopaya.org), a citizen’s petition—legal under Article 88G of the Cuban constitution, which allows voters to present a bill to the National Assembly and to demand a referendum—for change.
I am not defending a particular project; I defend the rights of citizens. More than ever, the Cuban people need and desire a peaceful solution to the country’s political situation, a transition to democracy, respect for human rights and freedom. For this reason the campaign continues—this and because our jailed brothers who helped launch the campaign continue to support it. If the world understands these peaceful citizens’ participation in this campaign and other civic activities, people will understand the injustice of these imprisonments—an injustice that is perpetuated as long as they remain in prison—and the nobleness and legitimacy of the cause that we defend together. I hope that this will awaken their solidarity.
Much has already been said about these events. I hope that reports of the hunger strike resonate, because each of these prisoners is a flesh-and-blood person who is risking his health, and his life, in defense of his personal dignity and that of the other political prisoners. This article should not serve as a commemoration of their imprisonment but as a denunciation. We should speak not of an injustice that occurred four years ago but of an injustice that has lasted four years, here in the other Guantanamo, the one that has not yet become a scandal.