Hunger Strikes: Do They Work or Not?

Yoani Sanchez – Award-winning Cuban

Hunger Strikes: Do They Work or Not?

Posted: 09/20/2012 8:17 am

Diverse elements came together — this time — so that the hunger strike

of the many Cuban dissidents demanding the release of a was

successful. The very size of it was a critical factor in its positive

outcome. It started with a dozen activists refusing to eat, and by the

end more than thirty had joined in. Although 's government

has frequently dealt with situations of this kind, the large number of

strikers greatly complicated its medical, and informational


The obvious legal violation being committed against Jorge Vazquez

Chaviano focused the protest with respect to the country's legislation.

The authorities were trapped in their own legal code, compelled to

comply with the opinions issued by their courts. Although judicial

arbitrariness abounds throughout the country, there are few situations

that offer such obvious evidence of irregularities. Vazquez Chaviano's

case was one of those rare exceptions; a sentencing certificate on

letterhead with stamp and signature clearly gave the lie to the official


In 2010, when Guillermo Fariñas led the protest of empty stomachs the

alternative information networks were not as extensive as they are

today, nor as immediate and effective in calling people together. Within

twenty-four hours of the press conference announcing the start of the

hunger strike, most of the dissidents in the entire Island were aware of

what was happening. Twitter has become an irreplaceable tool to confront

the press monopoly held by the Communist Party. The hashtag

#HuelgadeHambre (Hunger Strike), and the names of those participating in

it, lit up this social network.

The rapid response of the international community also contributed to

the result achieved. Amnesty International's statement clarifying why

Vazquez Chaviano was still in alerted many inside and outside of

Cuba. Other statements from European politicians, in which they

expressed alarm for the of the hunger strikers, contributed to

publicizing the event far beyond our national borders, making it clear

that people were worried and were watching what was happening. The times

in which it seemed as if "no one was listening" are definitely long gone.

Despite some criticisms of the strikers, the opposition was surprisingly

united around their demand. There were many who saw the fast as

diverting attention from other civic projects now gaining strength, but

they were the minority. In general, the hunger strikers received

numerous displays of solidarity and managed to unite around themselves

widely diverse sectors of Cuban civil society. Perhaps this was the

major reason that State Security communicated with Vazquez Chaviano's

family on Tuesday that he would be released quickly. The negative

political cost of the hunger strike was a distraction for the

government, while it functioned as a unifying force for the dissidents.

The Cuban opposition won this round, one to zero.

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