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)