Cuban hunger strikers cry victory after prisoner freed
HAVANA — Dissident Marta Beatriz Roque called it “a victory for the Cuban people … and democracy” when the communist government bowed to the demands of hunger strikers and freed a political prisoner.
Roque’s campaign had inspired 29 other protesters to put their lives on the line, joining her action before it was called off after achieving its goal.
“A lot of people inside Cuba supported us, a lot of Cubans living abroad, and so did some people who love democracy. They were with us too,” an exhausted Roque, a former political prisoner herself, told AFP.
“It is a victory for the Cuban people,” said Roque, 67, an economist with diabetes who was on strike for eight days before the island’s rulers at last moved to free Jorge Vazquez Chaviano.
Roque started the protest on September 10 in her Havana home. She had since stopped taking her medication.
“The road for us should be respecting each other and supporting each other regardless of what our political position about the country’s problems is,” she said, noting that the strike “has been hard on a lot of people.”
Asked how she was feeling, Roque said: “Not well at all; I am still very weak.”
The economist had been pressing mainly for the release of opposition member Vazquez Chaviano, who was supposed to have been released from jail on September 9 after serving a sentence for an “economic crime,” his relatives say, but has remained behind bars.
“We have called it (the hunger strike) off because the wife of Jorge Vazquez Chaviano reported that a file from the Supreme Court arrived ordering him to be released,” activist Rosa Naranjo had told AFP earlier at Roque’s Havana home.
Initially, 13 opposition members joined Roque in her protest but the number later swelled to nearly 30.
Hunger strikes have become the highest-profile weapon of Cuba’s dissidents: two being held prisoner have recently died — Orlando Zapata in February 2010 and Wilman Villar in January 2012.
Award-winning dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote on Twitter that with Vazquez Chaviano’s release “the hunger strike is over, and a people’s victory has been declared.”
In 2003, Roque was the only woman among 75 activists arrested and given long prison sentences in a high-profile crackdown.
However, she was released the following year for health reasons, and went on to found a group that represents several opposition movements on the island, the Americas’ only communist government.
She also has been very critical of President Raul Castro’s dialogue with the local Roman Catholic church, and has urged Cardinal Jaime Ortega to be tougher with the government.