When Jorge Vazquez Chaviano stepped out of his house in Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara on the morning of March 27th, 2012, on his way to the city of Havana to assist the Mass offered by Pope Benedict XVI, he knew he was running serious risks. A few days prior to that date, he had suffered various acts of repudiation and his house was vandalized under the orders of the authorities, which left broken windows, paint on the walls, stonings, etc. Serious threats of beatings, arrests and even death constantly hunger over him. They were days of a massive wave of arrests and aggression against activists all over the island in order to keep them from assisting Mass which was to be offered by Benedict XVI in the Eastern and Western region of the country.
This video is living proof of what happened on that afternoon of March. “Long live peace” and “long live freedom” were the slogans shouted by Vazquez Chaviano when he was being arrested and physically assaulted by political police officers and State Security agents. He was shoved into a Jeep and taken towards an undisclosed location. His family presumed that he would be detained for various days and later returned to his home, as occurred with the majority of dissidents during those days.
The dissident, member of a the Human Rights Party of Cuba, the Central Opposition Coalition and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front, was taken to the police unit of Sagua la Grande, later to the UPOC of Santa Clara and then to the prison known as ‘La Pendiente’. In April, he was transferred to the prison of maximum severity known as Guamajar, where he was sentenced to 6 months behind bars under false accusations of “illegal economic activities”, a charge against him which he was first accused of (falsely) in 2011 simply for using his own welding machine to fix furniture in his house. Just a few weeks ago in August of 2012, he was beaten and taken to the Manacas Prison, one of the most violent and notorious penitentiaries in Cuba, according to the thousands of political prisoners who have passed by those dungeons. On the morning of September 15th, it was confirmed that he was once again taken to the Guamajar prison.
His wife, Maria del Carmen Hernandez Martinez, has not stopped demanding his freedom since that March. She has had to pass through countless obstacles, like being refused her right to visit her husband in jail and she and the rest of her relatives have been subjected to constant vigilance and threats on behalf of the military forces of the country. Hernandez Martinez has been very attentive as September 9th arrived, the date in which Chaviano’s sentence was to be extinguished and when he’d be released. However, the 9th arrived and the 9th left, and Jorge still remains in a dungeon, and even received a brutal beating that same day and was taken into a punishment cell.
The political prisoner’s response was clear: he declared himself on hunger strike in Manacas prison on the morning of September 10th, according to his wife Maria del Carmen. But he was not the only one. From the city of Placetas, the renknown dissident and fromer political prisoner Jorge Luis Gacia Perez ‘Antunez’ decided to launch his own hunger strike on Friday, September 7th, and called upon Cuba’s internal opposition to carry out activities demanding the release of Vazquez Chaviano. Three days later, the activist (and also former political prisoner) Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello carried out a press conference at her home in Havana, where she announced that she was also declaring herself on hunger strike, a protest in which a number of activists- men, women, young, and old- have started to join throughout the country.
“There are many brothers and sisters who have joined this protest to demand freedom for Jorge Vazquez Chaviano“, said Maria del Carmen, sepcifying that up to the moment (September 13th) there are 26 participants in the strike, all of who are from different provinces like Havana, Villa Clara and Holguin. In fact, there are Ladies in White (as the case of Rosa Maria Naranjo Nieves) and political prisoners from their cells (like Orlando Almenares Reyes from Canaletas Prison in Ciego de Avila).
Maria del Carmen has also carried out her own protests. “A group of us dissidents, among them Jorge’s mother- Maria Elena Chaviano Hernandez- were arrested when we took to the streets of Sagua la Grande to demand his freedom“, she explained on September 10th. She was arrested once more during afternoon hours of that same day. Her response was to sit outside her house with signs with messages demanding her husband’s freedom.
“On Tuesday, 4 of us went to the streets again in Sagua la Grande at around 1 PM to demand his freedom“, she said, “they hit me on the mouth, they scratched my face, so I would not continue shouting for the freedom of my husband and we were detained in the police unit until the next day“.
Jorge Adrian Vazquez Hernandez, 21 year old son of Jorge and Maria del Carmen, witnessed these arrests on the 11th and detailed that one of the officials, whom he identified of having the last name Batista, “broke” his mother’s lips. The young Cuban explains that there were also “uniformed women and a lieutenant colonel” participating in the violence. Those arrested and beaten, in addition to his mother, were his grandmother Maria Elena Chaviano and dissidents Luis Enrique Monzon Rivero, Abelardo Sosa Perez, and Jesus Reinaldo Rodriguez. The son of Vazquez remained in his house along with his 15 year old brother, Miguel, all night, surrounded by police agents who were threatening to fine him for hanging a sign outside his house demanding freedom for his parents.
Meanwhile, activists throughout the island have carried out their own protests and made their personal declarations in solidarity with the hunger strikers and demanding the freedom of Jorge Vazquez. Such is the case of Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo who carried out a vigil and a protest from her home in Boyeros, Havana on September 12th. On the 13th, members of Bayamo Youth, under the direction of activist Yoandri Montoya Aviles, demonstrated their unconditional support with the strikers, explaining that they will carry out a series of protests. A number of activists in Buenavenutra, Holguin declared themselves in a collective fast and that they were joining the demand for the release of Chaviano, said Delmides Fidalgo Lopez. In Santa Clara, a number of dissidents marched down to the local park shouting pro-freedom slogans, and they were all arrested. On the 12th, in Banes, Holguin, the Ladies in White Marta Diaz Rondon and Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez held a vigil and later a pots-and-pans demonstration demanding freedom, while in Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spritus and Camaguey, human rights activists affirmed that they were joing the call to a national protest.
Many other dissidents have sent out messages on Twitter, seeking support for the hunger strikers and highlighting that they run serious risks with their lives. Among the Tweets of solidairty were some by Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Librado Linares Garcia, Yoani Sanchez and Guillermo Farinas.
On the night of Wednesday September 12th, Martha Beatriz Roque, who suffers from diabetes and who suffered a heart attack when she was in prison during the Black Spring in 2003, lost consciousness and pulse after a hypoglycemic attack but was brought back to conscience, luckily. However, she remained “very cold and with a very low blood pressure level“, according to Idania Yanez. On the morning of July 13th, Antunez suffered similar symptoms when he also lost consciousness and started to suffer from an elevated fever. The dissident regained his consciousness but still has strong pains, making it difficult to move and he is suffering from tachycardia. His wife, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, has been offering declarations to various media outlets and has been publishing Twitter messages asking for international solidarity so that the strikers do not lose their lives in their attempt to achieve their objective, considering that they are very frail of health. On September 14th, Perez Aguilera made an urgent call to the world, detailing that her husband was once again semi-unconscious.
Meanwhile, in Palma Soriano, Misahel Valdes Diaz was arrested on the morning of the 13th, according to Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia who published a Tweet. Initially, Antunez had started his strike on September 7th also in condemnation of the constant attacks against Misahel, like the recent house raid and beating of his wife, Lady in White Vivian Hernandez Pena, and himself. His 2 year old daughter and 19 year old step-daughter,were also beaten. Misahel was threatened with death by State Security officials while detained for 3 days. Upon being released, Valdes decided to declare himself on hunger strike, demanding freedom for Vazquez Chaviano.
It has been demonstrated in these cases that, all these Cubans are willing to give their lives for the freedom of a brother in cause, and at the same time, for the freedom of all Cubans. Hunger strikes have been used, at least in Cuba, to bring international and national attention over the human rights abuses on the island and to create pressure over the regime so that they are forced to give in to their demands. This time, their demands are freedom for a humble man, a father of two, who was only taken to a dungeon because he does not fear the tyranny, for voicing his thoughts and for trying to assist a religious event. And it is precisely this solidarity which has surged that has kept the struggle for freedom in Cuba active, despite the oppression which the dictatorship practices.
“I do not have the words to express my appreciation to all those dissident brothers and sisters for what they are doing to demand Jorge Vazquez Chaviano’s freedom“, said a clearly emotional Maria del Carmen Hernandez, “God bless them all. We will continue in this struggle for freedom, I will keep on fighting from here, I will go out to the street again to demand freedom for my husband“.
**Nota- According to María del Carmen Hernández Martínez, the 26 strikers are: Jorge Vázquez Chaviano (from prison in Santa Clara), Jorge Luis García Pérez ‘Antúnez’ (Placetas), Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello (Havana), Yosmel Martínez Colcho (Santa Clara), Alberto Reyes Morales (Santa Clara), Luis Enrique Santos Caballero (Santa Clara), Arturo Conde Zamora (Placetas), Yerandy Martínez Rodríguez (El Pre Prison of Santa Clara), Orlando Almenares Reyes (Canaletas Prison, Ciego de Ávila) , Luis Enrique Ponce Sánchez (Canaletas), Roberley Villalobo Torres (Canaletas), Irael Isaac (Canaletas), Yuniel Álvarez García (Canaletas), Omar Pedroso Suarez (Canaletas), Arcelio López Rojas (El Pre Prison in Santa Clara), Yadira Rodríguez Bombino (Havana), Ibis María Rodríguez González (Havana), Felmir Vázquez (Havana), Yasmany Habas (Havana), Rosa Maria Naranjo Nieves (from Holguín, but on hunger strike in Havana), Leonardo Calcio Santana Ponce (Holguín), Pedro Fernández Vega Cortes (Holguín), Ramón Esteban Enamorado Santos (Manzanillo), Ángel Caballero Obduardo (Manzanillo), Jorge Luis Recio Arias (Holguín) y Misahel Valdés Díaz (Palma Soriano).
For more information from Cuba:
María del Carmen Hernández Martínez – Cell Phone: +5353-804-651
Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera – Cell Phone: +5352-417-749 // Twitter: @YrisCuba