Massive hunger strike by UNPACU ends with the release of Luis Enrique Lozada

Luis Enrique Lozada (far right) and his family

A young Cuban can finally hug his father- unjustly imprisoned for nearly one month- and a massive hunger strike by more than 60 citizens has come to an end, yielding positive results.

The protest was initiated by members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in demand for the release of activist Luis Enrique Lozada Igarza.  He was arrested by the political police on April 9th after they raided his home in Maffo, Contramaestre.  His crime?  Offering his house each Tuesday to impart courses on peaceful resistance and civil disobedience.  At the moment of his arrest, Lozada started a hunger strike.  Members of his family followed his protest, starting their own strikes.  Among them his 17-year old son Enrique Lozada, his wife Darmis Aguedo, his brother Arnoldo Lozada, and others.  In just a few days about a dozen other activists, under the lead of former political prisoner and leader of UNPACU Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, also started strikes.  Eventually, more than 60 dissidents in different regions such as Palma Soriano, Holguin, San Luis and Gibara were on hunger strike.

After what seemed like countless acts of repudiation, arrests, and threats by the political police, as well as serious health complications product of more than 4 weeks on strike, the activists achieved their objective on the night of May 7th: The authorities handed a document to Enrique Lozada, explaining that his father would be released, promising that he would be back home in Contramaestre on the following morning.

Upon confirming the news, the young activist finally stopped his strike, drinking juice.  Enrique moved the world after he published a video assuring that he was willing to die for his father.  His health was seriously affected.

“I am giving thanks in the name of the family and in the name of the hunger strikers, thanks to the hundreds of UNPACU activists that were carrying out different actions throughout the country, thanks to activists of other organizations who joined us in solidarity, thanks to our brothers in exile who have always backed us with solidarity”, expressed Jose Daniel Ferrer in one of  the first audios  published on the YouTube account of UNPACU.

The release of Lozada Igarza did not come easy.  The same day in which the news was made public- May 7th- the regime unleashed a brutal wave of repression against various strikers and other activists showing solidarity.  On that same afternoon, the political police assauled the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital of Santiago de Cuba, where some of the strikers had been taken, forcefully removing them.  Some were beat and abandoned in different parts of the province.  In the case of Lady in White Ana Celia Rodriguez, police agents ripped off her IV, which caused her much bleeding, according to a report by her son, the young activist Anyer Antonio Blanco Rodriguez.  The same occurred with Ernique Lozada, who even passed out after strong aggressions.

Another activist who was forcefully removed from the hospital was 60-year old Dionisio Blanco Rodriguez, while activists displaying solidarity in front of the hospital were also beat and detained, as was the case of Ovidio Martin Castellanos, among others.

In Holguin, the hunger strikers Franklin Peregrino del Toro and Pedro Leiva Gongora were denied medical assistance on various occasions, but the protests by a number of dissidents forced the local hospital to assist him. The State-sponsored violence could not impede activists from joining the strikers in support.  In Pinar del Rio, more than 50 dissidents held fasts, backing the call for Lozada Igarza’s freedom.  Members of other pro-freedom movements like the Ladies in White, the Republican Party of Cuba and the OZT National Resistance Front carried out marches, protests, encounters and other activities in solidarity.

A campaign started by everyday citizens was created outside of Cuba, where activists used social networks to denounce the situation plaguing the strikers and in search of support.  Various petitions were created with the purpose of taking the details to international human rights organizations, while in Twitter the hashtag #HuelgadeHambreUNPACU (“HungerStrikeCuba”) was created.  This pressure led various politicians and other public figures to make public statements in favor of Luis Enrique Lozada’s release.

Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, representative of UNPACU in exile, started a fast alongside other activists in a display of support for those risking their lives on the island.  They maintained the fast until the very moment in which Lozada’s liberation was announced.

This has been another series of actions that prove that Cubans can achieve positive things in their country and it is more proof that citizens do have power.  The internal opposition, through the civic protests of UNPACU and others, left the dictatorship with no other option but to release human rights activist Luis Enrique Lozada.

It is clear that the regime has sent a message of violence to the opposition with their wave of aggressions during the strike, specially on the last day, just minutes before releasing the activist.  But dissidents have also responded, sending their own message to the dictatorship:

“We will keep up the struggle…we have been able to get one man out of the dungeons of the tyranny, but other political prisoners are still behind bars in inhumane conditions”, said Jose Daniel Ferrer, mentioning more than 40 UNPACU activists who are imprisoned for having different ideas, “but we will continue fighting for their freedom, and for the freedom of Cuba, with much more strength, with much more dedication, and much more desire than ever”.

*Congratulations to all those who risked their lives for the release of an innocent man. – (Pedazos de la Isla)

Meet some of the hunger strikers in Cuba

Pictured in this photo is Luis Enrique Lozada (right), an activist of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), along with his family, in Maffo, Contramaestre. Lozada has been imprisoned for more than 2 weeks, after he was arbitrarily arrested by the political police. He offers his home each Tuesday to impart courses on civil disobedience and non-violent struggles for local activists as well as everyday citizens- neighbors, friends, etc. These encounters usually end in acts of repudiations and house raids at the hands of State Security, and it is also the reason for his detention last April 9th.

Luis Enrique was kept in the Third Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba for various days before being transferred over to the Boniato Prison. In response, approximately 14 relatives and friends stood outside the unit demanding his release, carrying out hunger strikes and protests. On his part, Lozada also declared himself on hunger strike.

The protest expanded when a total of 20 activists from UNPACU joined in. But now, there are more than 50 Cubans on hunger strike for the same cause. Here are the faces and stories of some of them:

Pictured above is Enrique Lozada Aguedo. He’s the 17-year old son of Luis Enrique Lozada. For a while, he was the youngest member of UNPACU, and in 2012 called on the Cuban youth to join the dissident movement to demand their rights. Now, he has put his life on the line to demand his father’s release.

Darmis Aguedo Zaldivar, wife of Luis Enrique Lozada, mother of Enrique; she is a Lady in White and member of UNPACU. She demands an end to the violence against her husband, her children, and the rest of her family and members of the peaceful opposition movement in the Eastern region of the country.

Arnoldo Lozada Igarza is Luis Enrique’s brother. He is frequently subjected to police violence along with his brother while they participate in the courses on non-violent civic struggles.

This is Lady in White Ana Celia Rodriguez, from Santiago de   Cuba. She is frequently persecuted and arrested by the political police when she tries to make it to Sunday Mass at the National Cobre Shrine. She is the mother of the young activist Anyer Antonio Blanco Rodriguez.

José Daniel Ferrer García, executive secretary of UNPACU, he is a former political prisoner of conscience and one of the leaders of the internal opposition on the island. He started his hunger strike alongside dozens of other activists in the Cespedes Park of Santiago de Cuba, right in front of the Cathedral of Santiago. Afterward, he took his protest back to his home in Palmarito de Cauto, which serves as one of the main meeting points of UNPACU. He said his protest was for the release of Luis Enrique Lozada as well as for the release of all detained UNPACU activists. In addition, he is calling for an end to violence against all peaceful dissidents in Cuba and is shedding light on the situation of more than 40 members of UNPACU who have been sentenced to prison terms for several years. Ferrer Garcia suffers from various health issues, all of them acquired in dungeons during his 7 year prison sentence, and his hunger strike may intensify these complications.

Sirley Avila, an ex delegate of the Popular Power Department in Limones, Las Tunas. She was fired for speaking without censorship and for trying to truthfully represent the people. Recently, she has joined the opposition. She’s been blacklisted by the government since.

More photos of some other hunger strikers:

Anyer Antonio Blanco, who provided the photos shown in this post, said on his Twitter account (@anyerantoniobla) on April 23rd that there are now a total of 54 hunger strikers. They hail from Palmarito de Cauto, Palma Soriano, San Luis, Holguin, Banes, Las Tunas, Pinar del Rio and many other places. The strikers are from UNPACU, but many other activists from diverse pro-freedom organizations have joined in fasts or with public protests, like the case of Grua Nueva, Ciego de Avila, where members of the Pedro Luis Boitel Movement and of the Rosa Parks Movement have been carrying out several demonstrations, and the members of the Democratic Alliance of Pinar del Rio, who have more than 60 members fasting in the province of Pinar del Rio. The Ladies in White and national coalitions such as the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Resistance Front have also joined in solidarity.

The political police has increased the level of violence against all those who lend their homes to show solidarity with the strikers, as well as against those who carry out marches or other civic protests. Many have been arrested and beaten, as was the case of Rubislandi Avila, rushed to a hospital after a brutal beat-down at the hands of the police in the town of Mella (Santiago de Cuba).

Meanwhile, in exile, Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia and Ana Belkis Ferrer Garcia (siblings of Jose Daniel Ferrer) have started a fast in solidarity with the strikers. Various Cubans living in different cities have joined the call. They are convoking others to participate in this display of support. Visit their webpage here.

For more videos of the hunger strikers, visit the YouTube channel of UNPACU.

Protests and hunger strikes by UNPACU to demand release of detainees

Jose Daniel Ferrer and other strikers infront of Cathedral of Santiago. Via: UNPACU

A group of 14 activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) spent all day on April 15th and the 16th protesting outside the Third Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba, demanding the release of dissident Luis Enrique Losada, member of UNPACU, who has been detained and on hunger strike since this past April 9th. Losada’s son (Enrique Losada, 17 years old) and his brother (Arnoldo Losada) also declared themselves on hunger strike.

(Audio of Enrique Losada about his father’s situation, in Spanish):

Lady in White Ana Celia Rodriguez was also in the demonstration, and she explained that they were under the strict vigilance of numerous State Security, National Revolutionary Police agents, as well as other members of the regime’s security apparatus.

Rodriguez added that “we are here and will continue here, and we will remain peaceful, with the disciplines which characterizes us. We do not want confrontations; we just want freedom for our brother, Luis Enrique Losada“. She pointed out that the demonstration was also in protest of many other UNPACU members that had been arrested by the political police recently.

During afternoon hours of Tuesday, April 16th, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, executive secretary of UNPACU, publicly declared himself on hunger strike to demand the liberation of all the recent detainees, moving the protest over to Cespedes Park of Santiago de Cuba, in front of the Cathedral of Santiago. Another 24 activists joined this strike, while another 10 accompanied them to protest (but not on strike), making it a total of 34 people. Ferrer sat in front of the Cathedral, carrying a sign demanding the end of political violence, persecution and incarceration.

(Audio of José Daniel Ferrer, update about the strike, April 16th, 5:00 PM):

Our demand is that they release all the recent activists of our group that have been detained in the past days“, said Ferrer. Among other detainees are Wilber Parada and Roberto Hernandez, in Havana, as well as another 8 activists arrested along Luis Enrique Losada in Santiago de Cuba. Numerous Ladies in White from Santiago have also suffered violent arrests in Sundays past to impede them from arriving at El Cobre National Shrine.

Ferrer Garcia explained that he demands that “all the recent detainees, arrested violently, be released immediately, and at the same time we want to shed light on all the activists of UNPACU we have in prison, in other words political prisoners, which already are more than 40… we also call attention on the excessive violence against other UNPACU activists and other peaceful dissidents throughout the country, but especially in the Eastern region, where attacks are carried out at night, attacking people with sticks and stones. The police has been raiding homes, robbing and intimidating people, hurting them, threatening them and even attempting against their lives- the lives of innocent people, like the elderly, children, women and even pregnant women“.

Jose Daniel Ferrer, on strike, with signs calling an end to violence. Via: UNPACU

The dissident leader blamed the Ministry of the Interior, State Security and all police organisms of the Cuban regime of carrying out these acts of terror against peaceful activists.

Numerous UNPACU activists and other pro-freedom groups have denounced the continuous death threats by State Security in places like Velasco, Holguin, during this month of April, while new dissidents have been taken to dungeons and will probably be sentenced to years behind bars, such as rapper Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga, along with relatives and neighbors, in the city of Bayamo.

The rise of incarcerations because of political motives is alarming“, expressed Ferrer.

The 34 demonstrators in Santiago   de Cuba are under harassment by the political police. Agents have been throwing rocks at them and shouting insults at the dissidents, and at least 6 have been violently arrested as they have tried to join the protest.

We spoke with the Bishop of Santiago de Cuba“, said Ferrer, “and we gave him our word that we would not respond to the insults and rocks they are throwing our way. We are sitting in front of the Cathedral, waiting to see what the response of this tyrannical regime will be. We want our activists to be freed, immediately. Our activists have been beaten, detained and confined in inhumane conditions in filthy dungeons of police units“.

Mobs have been organized by the State Police to provoke the strikers, even playing loud pro-government music, while the majority of the telephone lines of the dissidents have been blocked during night hours. Activists fear that the demonstrators will be arrested and beaten, but they have said that they will maintain their protest, while UNPACU, as an organization, said that all its members will take to the streets if these activists are victims of further violence.