Vladimir Morera Bacallao, a Cuban dissident allegedly freed as part of President Obama’s deal with Cuba but sentenced to four years in prison shortly after being released, is currently on his 81st day of a hunger strike that has left him in critical condition.
“He does not recognize us,” his wife told the U.S.-based Martí noticias, and is in extremely grave condition in a hospital in Villa Clara. He reportedly weighs 93 pounds, and relatives expressed little hope for his survival. “He is very grave… [but] they say he is a prisoner so we are not allowed to see him,” Morera’s sister told AFP.
Morera was arrested in April for hanging a sign on his window condemning the communist Castro dictatorship. The sign read “I vote for my freedom, and not in one of those elections where I can’t even choose a president.” The sign was mocking Cuba’s legislative elections, in which only Communist Party officials are allowed to compete. After his second arrest, family members described the incident, noting that his children and wife were also beaten by state police.
Morera had been freed in January from prison, where he was serving an eight-year sentence for defending a fellow dissident from a violent communist mob, as part of President Obama’s “normalization” deal with Cuba. International supporters of the Cuban government and human rights groups that oppose isolating the Castro regime celebrated the liberation of 53 political prisoners that months as a sign that President Obama’s attempt to make concessions to the regime would help dissidents. Most of those dissidents, however, have been rearrested for crimes similar to Morera’s act of disobedience.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement saying the United States is “profoundly concerned” for Morera’s health.
In the year since President Obama announced that the United States would make a series of concessions to dictator Raúl Castro, including removing Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, in exchange for, in the words of Castro, “nothing at all,” the situation for political dissidents has deteriorated significantly. In addition to the re-arrests of dozens of prisoners of conscience, leaders of dissident groups such as the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) are arrested on an almost weekly basis, most for attending Sunday Catholic Mass. Political arrests increased by 70 percent between January and March 2015 in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. The announcement also triggered a flood of Cuban refugees attempting to flee to Central America, fearing that the Obama administration would repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows the federal government to treat all Cubans as political refugees. About 8,000 Cuban nationals are currently stranded in Costa Rica after relying on a human trafficking ring shut down by the Costa Rican government.
Morera previously survived a 68-day hunger strike in April 2014, which he was forced to end after doctors found a tumor in his stomach.
Dissidents using Twitter have reported that a congregation of anti-communist activists that had gathered in front of the hospital currently treating Morera have been violently arrested.