In a display of solidarity, activists in different parts of Cuba started hunger strikes and campaigns of protests and other public activities to demand the release of Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias, jailed independent reporter of Hablemos Press. The campaign managed to achieve its objective on the night of April 9th, something which dissidents are considering a victory.
Three activists in the city of Camaguey started hunger strikes on Saturday April 6th, according to the Twitter account of Santos Fernandez Sanchez (@SantosFSanchez), member of the Pro-Human Rights Party of Cuba. The strikers were Daniel Millet Jimenez, Misael Canel Velazquez and Fernando Vazquez.
As part of the waves of support, Roberto de Jesus Guerra, director of Hablemos Press, also declared himself on hunger strike on Monday April 8th. The journalist had explained that this was a promise he had made to Martinez Arias when they last spoke during the previous week.
Guerra confirmed on Monday afternoon that Calixto himself had also re-initiated his own hunger strike in the Valle Grande prison, where he was confined in punishment cells and mistreated by his jailers. Calixto had already underwent a hunger strike from March 6th to the 28th. He had stopped it when functionaries told him he’d soon be released. Upon seeing that the promise was not kept soon enough, he turned to the same protest until his jailers had no other option but to give in.
On the afternoon of that same day, the 8th, Denis Noa Martinez and Gerardo Younel Avila, both reporters of Hablemos Press in Havana, also went on strike.
With the same objective, David Aguila Montero, a journalist based in Havana, made it public on Tuesday the 9th that he was also joining the hunger strikes. Hours later, Lady in White Sara Marta Fonseca confirmed on her Twitter account (@SaraMartaCuba) that activist Luis Manuel Fumero joined the protests in the capital.
Without counting Calixto Ramon, 8 Cubans were on hunger strike with the same objective: freedom for the jailed journalist, putting their lives at risk during this time for the freedom of a colleague and fellow countryman.
Meanwhile, diverse dissident groups- like the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)– joined the call for Martinez’s release, carrying out several public protests.
On Monday, member of the Front in Placetas, Villa Clara, protested in a local park, while in Grua Nueva, Ciego de Avila activist Julio Columbie Batista wrote on Twitter (@ColumbieJulio) that local dissidents began to fast and had been carrying out demonstrations in favor of Calixto. In Havana, the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy echoed the protests while members of the Pro Human Rights Party of Cuba dedicated their weekly vigils in honor of the jailed reporter, as was the case in the home of Sara Marta Fonseca in Boyeros. As part of the campaign in favor of Calixto, UNPACU protested in Las Villas, Villa Clara and in Maffo, Contramaestre on Tuesday.
On Twitter, the hashtags #LiberenaCalixto (‘Free Calixto’) and #CubaConCalixto (‘Cuba With Calixto’) surged with lots of strength, demanding justice through virtual means and taking Calixto’s case to different parts of the world. The success of such actions are reflected in the fact that organizations such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders publicly joined the call.
At around 7:30 PM on Tuesday, April 9th, a number of activists took to their Twitter accounts to inform that the journalist had been released from prison.
“Calixto Ramon has been released…Victory”, read a tweet by Sara Marta Fonseca (@SaraMartaCuba). She later wrote “I am very emotional right now after having spoken to my brother (in struggle) Calixto Ramon. Freedom for Cuba! Down with the dictatorship!”
Anyer Antonio Blanco (@anyerantoniobla) wrote “Calixto Ramon of Hablemos Press has been released! Another victory for Cuban civil society”.
Meanwhile, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo (@ivanlibre) tweeted, “Just a couple of minutes ago the Castro-communist tyranny has liberated independent journalist Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias”.
The “crime” which landed Martinez in prison for more than 6 months was being the first journalist to report the cholera and dengue outbreak in the Eastern region of the island. He was taken to prison for “disrespecting the figure of Fidel Castro”.
Details of his release are still emerging but if something is clear it’s that, once again, solidarity and pressure on behalf of the opposition and civil society have functioned against the Cuban dictatorship. Unity amongst diverse groups and individuals strengthened the international call for the release of a man who had been locked away for writing according only to his own conscience.
This same solidarity can also achieve the release of so many other Cubans who are currently behind bars for thinking differently from the totalitarian system.