Ramon Velazquez Toranzo is a Cuban dissident from the Eastern province of Las Tunas. He has suffered imprisonment, detainment, and threats due to his activism in defense of human rights, as well as for being an independent journalist. Towards the end of 2006, Velazquez headed “The March for Dignity” together with his wife and youngest daughter. The objective of the march was to walk throughout the island, passing all sorts of cities and towns on the way, demanding that the fundamental rights of Cubans be respected, and also, as the name suggests, so that the dignity of the Cuban people be respected. The march kicked off in Santiago de Cuba, in the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity, and the family was able to traverse various provinces, but not without countless obstacles on behalf of the tyranny. They were finally impeded from continuing upon arriving at Ciego de Avila in January of 2007.
Today, Ramon Velazquez is on hunger strike, and his daughter Rufina Velazquez (now exiled in Miami) is asking for solidarity for her father and his protest. Rufina has explained that due to her families’ anti-government stance, she has difficulties in communicating with her father as often as she likes, considering that their phone line is commonly intercepted and e-mails are censured, while hand written letters often never arrive to her father’s hands.
Rufina answered some questions for ‘Pedazos de la Isla’, bringing us her father’s message and explaining the reasons as to why he has decided to carry out a hunger strike:
PDLI: Tell us a bit about your father, Ramon Velazquez.
RV: My father, Ramon Velazquez Toranzo, joined the opposition before I was born, in the late 80’s. He began his dissident activities as an independent journalist, with the goal of denouncing all the violations and atrocities suffered by our country. My father is a very determined person, and his love for Cuba is one of the things for which he lives and fights for each day, as well as his love for life and respect for God. He has refused to abandon the country on numerous occasions, despite that State Security frequently tries to get him to leave through countless threats.
PDLI: Just a few years ago, when you were still living in Cuba, you carried out a non-violent march alongside your parents. Can you tell us a bit about this march? Did your family suffer impediments because of this? Would you say you achieved the objective of the march?
RV: In December of 2006, my father, mother, and I carried out a march which set out from Santiago de Cuba under the name of “March for Dignity”. With that march, we were demanding respect for human rights, freedom for all political prisoners, and that the violence against peaceful dissidents come to an end.
We were able to carry the march all the way to Ciego de Avila and that took us approximately two months due to the many arrests and interrogations we were subjected to. In February of 2007, my father was arrested once again but this time they unjustly sentenced him to 3 years of prison after a brief trial based on lies and false proof, accusing him of “anti-social dangerousness”. My mother and I decided to not continue the march without him.
After serving his total sentence of 3 years, he went right back to his dissident activities. He spent the last year and a half working as an independent journalist, setting up a human rights center in our house and supporting any activity, organization, protest, or other act against the tyranny which was at his reach.
PDLI: When did Ramon Velazquez begin his hunger strike? What are his reasons for initiating such a protest?
RV: Being one of the organizers of the current National Boitel and Zapata Live March in Cuba, he was detained by State Security at a bus station while he was trying to travel East, where the march would commence.
This occurred on September 9th, and since then he has been on hunger strike. When he was released on the 12th, they threatened to detain him again if he would just as much step out of his house. He was also told that they would use all their means to impede his participation in the march. That is why he decided to carry out a hunger strike as a form of protest. His main demands are that the right which Cubans have to march peacefully be respected, that ALL human rights be respected, and that a UN human rights inspector be allowed inside Cuba so that they can document and verify all the violations in this country.
PDLI: How is your father’s health at this moment?
RV: Health-wise, he is weak, with ailments which three years of prison have produced in him, along with a 16 day hunger strike which he carried out previously. However, his spiritual state is as strong as that of a titan. He is decided to take the strike to the final consequences, if the government does not give in to his demands.
PDLI: Do you have a message you’d like to share with readers in regards to the situation which your father is confronting?
RV: My message to those who read, hear, or know anything of what is happening in Cuba is a petition of solidarity, in whichever way possible so that we unmask and remove the Castro tyranny. We cannot allow so much human sacrifice, selflessness, and bravery from those who fight from inside to be in vain. We should unite forces and cross barriers. We have to make the suffering of Cubans our own, and support them. We are a family, and together we can achieve our goals.
More than anything, and on a more personal note, I ask for solidarity with my father. Please divulge the news of his situation, of his health, and that justice be demanded through every mean possible.
And don’t give up, for the day in which we achieve freedom is very near.