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A Hunger Strike in Cuba Exposes the Regime

Article by Joel Hirst February 1, 2013 //   4 minute read

This post originally appeared on www.freedomcollection.org.

From September 7 to 19, 2012 Jorge Luís García Pérez Antúnez led a hunger strike of Cuban freedom advocates to demand that the Castro regime free political prisoner Jorge Vázquez Chaviano.  Chaviano, who is an outspoken critic of the regime, was sentenced in March 2011 to 18 months of “correctional work without internment” for engaging in “unlawful economic activities.” The hunger strikers were also showing solidarity with Misahel Valdés Díaz, the Santiago representative of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance Front which Jorge Antúnez leads.  Díaz was arbitrarily arrested on September 6 and returned to his home to find it in ruins. The real reason for Chaviano’s imprisonment was to assure that he would not attend the mass offered by Pope Benedict in Havana during his visit to Cuba in March 2012. I recently called Bertha Antúnez, Jorge Antúnez’s sister and herself a former political prisoner now living in Miami, to check on her brother.  (Bertha is also featured in the Bush Institute’s Freedom Collection.) For the regime, says Bertha, “this type of pressure is not convenient.” “The government is at a disadvantage” because “they are so weak that they cannot handle the reproach.”  Translation: the Cuban regime requires darkness and secrecy to survive. Jorge Antúnez lifted his hunger strike on September 19, 2012 at the behest of Chaviano after Cuban security said he would soon be released (his release is still pending).  The hunger strike had received international attention from human rights advocates and the State Department, embarrassing the Cuban Government. While dangerous, hunger campaigns like this one are effective because they wrest legitimacy from the Cuban dictatorship, laying bare the true nature of the totalitarian state.  The government hungers for a legitimacy that will bring economic and other benefits to the island and increase the longevity of Cuba’s moribund regime.  When the regime is delegitimized, it affects its ability to sell its actions as “business as usual” and elicits negative attention, which is bad for business. Campaigns like this also highlight the fickle and sometimes hapless nature of the international community.  Where was the international outcry when Chaviano was imprisoned last year? Why didn’t Pope Benedict make an issue of the political prisoners during his visit?  Why after 18 months of illegitimate confinement for Chaviano did the international community decide the time was finally right for pressure?  Where was the outcry for Díaz, who was not only arbitrarily detained but whose entire house, according to Bertha Antúnez, was completely destroyed by Cuban security (including the theft of medicine for his two year old daughter)?  This inconsistent attention is harmful because it allows the Castro regime to constantly push the envelope to see what it can get away with and does not seriously alter the perceived legitimacy of the regime. According to the dictionary, the definition of legitimacy is “lawfulness by virtue of being authorized or in accordance with law.”  By any standards, the Castro regime does not abide by natural rights – the only source of laws – and is therefore illegitimate.  It’s high time the international community, with one voice, communicates this clearly. As Bertha Antúnez eloquently put it, “When people unite for a just cause, there is not a dictatorship that can resist.”

This post was written by Joel D. Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.  Find him on Twitter: @joelhirst