On his third week of a hunger strike, Guillermo Fariñas, one of Cuba’s most prominent human rights activists, is refusing medical intervention as his health declines and says he is ready to die to call attention to the Cuban government’s abuse of dissidents.
In a telephone interview from his home in Cuba on Tuesday with Fox News Latino, Fariñas said he wants the Cuban government to stop engaging in physical assault of political dissidents.
Those who have visited Fariñas, as well as a doctor who was monitoring his condition, have told Fox News Latino and other news organizations that he suffered two fractured ribs and other injuries in July when he asked Cuban state police about the status of a detained dissident, Carlos Amel Oliva.
Fariñas, who has gone on more than 20 hunger strikes in protest of human rights violations in Cuba, immediately wrote a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro asking for an end to “abuse, terror, and violence by the repressive authorities of your government.” He decided to launch a hunger strike, and more than a dozen other human rights activists in Cuba have joined him.
Fariñas, 54, has been hospitalized twice in the last 10 days, according to the Cuban American National Foundation, an influential Miami-based lobby group that pushes for democratic reform in Cuba.
As his health has deteriorated and a weaker Fariñas spends more and more of his days sleeping, the recipient of several international human rights prizes has been visited by a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and an envoy who stopped by on behalf of Pope Francis.
The Vatican envoy told Fariñas a few days ago that Pope Francis does not agree with holding a hunger strike, but respects his decision to do so.
Fariñas said he is too tired of the systemic abuses by the Castro regime and that he will sacrifice his life to get the Cuban government to take action, or the world to take human rights abuses in Cuba more seriously.
“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,” Fariñas said of what he is asking of the Cuban government. “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.”
Fariñas, who met with President Barack Obama when he visited Havana in March, said the United States’ move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba only has emboldened the Castro regime “by giving it validation.”
“The intentions by the president were good, I believe, but it has served to make them feel legitimized and more reckless about oppression,” Fariñas said. “If they had any good will, the Cuban government would have taken steps toward democratic reform and liberties for everyone, the Cuban citizenry and critics of the government. But instead, the regime is acting with impugnity.”
Fariñas wants the Obama administration to freeze diplomatic relations so long as the government continues to crack down on dissension.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said to Fox News Latino on condition of anonymity that it is keeping track of Fariñas’ health, and has contacted Cuban authorities about its concerns regarding the activist. A U.S. Embassy staffer went to check on Fariñas at his home on Monday.
“We remain concerned about the physical wellbeing of Guillermo Fariñas, Carlos Amel, and other activists engaged in a hunger strike in Cuba,” the State Department official said in a statement. “We are monitoring their situation closely.”
“We stand in solidarity with those who advocate for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly,” the official said. “We have raised our concerns directly with the Cuban government, both in Washington and Havana.”
Fariñas has dropped nearly 30 pounds since he began his hunger strike in July, said fellow dissident Jorge Luis Artiles Montiel, who has been acting as spokesman for Fariñas and others holding hunger strikes.
Fariñas’ mother, who is a nurse, is monitoring his vital signs, Artiles Montiel told Fox News Latino.
“His blood pressure is low, his pulse is slow, his heart rate is low,” he said. “He doesn’t want food or anything. At the hospital they had an IV pumping fluid into him, but he didn’t want it.”
“He wants no more medical intervention, even if his condition deteriorates and he loses consciousness. He told us not to call for help if that happens. But of course we will, how can we not? His health is in peril.”
The Cuban government has force-fed hunger strikers in the past. The United Nations considers force-feeding hunger strikes a human rights violation.
In 2010, Fariñas held one of his most watched hunger strikes as the Cuban government was in talks with the Spanish government about releasing political prisoners. The government released 116 political prisoners, many of whom were offered exile in Spain. Fariñas was one of them, but refused, saying – like some other dissidents – that he would not grant Cuba’s wish to rid itself of critics by banishing them to other countries.
Besides the U.S. State Department, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican of Cuban descent, several international human rights organizations, and U.S.-based groups that advocate for democratic reform in Cuba all have expressed concern about Fariñas.
Fariñas has been honored around the world for his human rights activism. Among the honors is the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2010.