National Review readers are well familiar with Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas. He is a Cuban doctor, journalist, and dissident. We have commented on him for many years, with great admiration.
In 2010, Fariñas won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, given by the European Parliament. In my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, published two years later, I mentioned him and Oswaldo Payá as two Sakharov winners who probably could not win the Nobel — because the Norwegian Nobel Committee has not shown itself disposed to honor Cuban dissidents.
Payá, by the way, the Cuban government killed in the summer of 2012.
In 2010, the government was trying to get rid of dissidents, not by killing them but by exiling them to Spain. Fariñas was offered exile. But he refused, in the belief that he could do more for his country at home.
More than 20 times, he has gone on hunger strike, to achieve a particular result. Dissidents often feel powerless to do anything else. And Fariñas has some leverage — just a bit — because of his international reputation.
Incidentally, he is Afro-Cuban, like many of the island’s dissidents. (Dr. Biscet, Berta Soler, Antúnez, and so on.) I mention this because one of the propaganda points of the dictatorship and its supporters is that the Castros have been good for Afro-Cubans. (Biscet said to me, “You need only go to Cuba’s prisons,” if you think this is true. See how the white guards and police agents treat blacks.)
Coco Fariñas is again on hunger strike. He is near death. To read a report about this, go here. It is by Elizabeth Llorente of Fox News Latino.
What Fariñas wants is simple: He wants state security to stop beating the hell out of dissidents when the agents have the dissidents under arrest. Last month, Fariñas was beaten to a pulp just for inquiring about the status of another dissident.
This is what he said to Elizabeth Llorente: “I’m not asking them to stop detaining people, though they should stop making up bogus reasons and trumping up charges and refusing to admit that they detain people just for political reasons. I want them to stop beating up people who are merely protesting peacefully for freedom, for democratic reform. They also should never beat someone up when they are handcuffed or put in some other restraints.”
They always do this, Cuban state security. They do it to women, such as Berta Soler. They do it to the blind, such as Juan Carlos González Leiva.
I’ve asked both Berta and Juan Carlos, “Where does the government find people to do this kind of work? To beat up women and the blind, when they are helpless in handcuffs and other restraints?” It’s no problem, they answered. There are plenty of people to do the work. With relish.
Alongside Berta and other democracy leaders, Fariñas has met President Obama a couple of times, briefly. About Obama’s opening to the Castros, Fariñas told Llorente, “The intentions by the president were good, I believe, but it has served to make them feel legitimized and more reckless about oppression. … The regime is acting with impunity.”
This is just what Berta Soler told me. The way she put it was this: “We are seeing that what [Obama] has done is give a green light to the Cuban government to crush civil society.”
Guillermo Fariñas is a great man who has done everything he knows to decrease tyranny in his country just a little. My feeling is, it’s hard for people in free and peaceful countries to understand how a person can starve himself to death, over politics. I have talked to many dissidents about this. They feel absolutely trapped. They feel they have no recourse. They are at their wits’ end. And they are ready to die.
In 2010, I wrote a piece called “Death by Hunger Strike.” This was after Orlando Zapata Tamayo starved himself to death. He was another Cuban dissident, another democracy leader, another great man (and another Afro-Cuban). He held out for 83 days. When he died, he was 42 years old.
I would rather have Fariñas alive than dead. But he has tangled with this regime all his life, and he knows what he is doing. He knows his mind. He has his principles.
When he was born, in 1962, the regime was already three years old. Fariñas has never known a day out from under this dictatorship. The same is true of millions. We are so lucky, they are so unlucky.