…unless the Cuban government really does not value their lives which may very well be the case.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in prison in February 2010 after a hunger strike of more than 80 days. Rene Cobas died in prison several weeks ago after a hunger strike during which the Cuban government specifically rejected a doctor’s request to have Cobas transferred to a hospital. And recently, January 19, Wilman Villar Mendoza, originally detained on November 14, 2011 for participating in a nonviolent demonstration with the Unión Patriótica de Cuba, died after nearly 7 weeks on a hunger strike.
Letting these three die is a complete disregard for humanity but could also possibly be a tactic to remove “undesirables” from Cuban society. But why would the Cuban government choose to let them die? The answer rests in present-day Cuba.
In 2012, more than ever before, the State’s duty to protect and value all individual lives is universally accepted. The Cuban government therefore had an obvious responsibility to prevent their deaths. It is also widely recognized that the purported three pillars of the Revolution — health, education and industrialization — crumbled long ago. Most hospitals lack modern tools and facilities, and universal healthcare is a farce because many doctors must charge for their services to make a living. Failures in education and economy are reflected by the thousands of Cubans who leave Cuba every year, seeking employment, opportunities and wages outside Cuba because Cuba is bankrupt. All of this means the Cuban government let them die in spite of an obvious duty to safeguard citizen lives and without a “Revolution” to protect.
Moreover, the baton of authority has been passed from Fidel to Raul who is implementing his version of post-Fidel Statism with systematic upgrades of control mechanisms that still tower over cultural, economic, political and social activity. Cuba is either in a pre-transition period to a market-based economy or in the process of establishing Crony Capitalism based on Raul’s confidants who now dominate the Communist Party and State corporations, the latter becoming more probable as time passes. Raul also seems to be evaluating which lessons from the former Soviet bloc, China, Venezuela and Vietnam are the most effective at increasing family wealth and longevity in power while thwarting Cuban hawks from staging a coup d’etat. With brother Fidel ailing on the sidelines, Raul needs to watch his own back for who might be rising in the ranks.
The conclusion, therefore, is that these three deaths were a result of Cuba’s current leadership attempting to maintain social control, quiet public dissent and prevent civic activism while buying time for controlled economic reforms to take effect.
After Villar Mendoza’s death, the Cuban government was quick to react. He was called an enemy of the state, a traitor, a “gusano” (worm) by pro-government bloggers. But the government also immediately released another political prisoner, Guillermo Fariñas, who was unjustly detained and has the ability to move the international press, especially since he won the 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The release of Fariñas suggests that some in the Cuban government might sometimes be sensitive to “bad press” — for lack of a better phrase – which could bode well for prisoners on hunger strikes in the next few weeks.
A more fundamental issue, however, is how many prisoners have to die on hunger strikes before the rest of the world takes notice? Common criminal or prisoner of conscience, the respect and value of an individual life is enshrined in the world’s major religions and all fundamental human rights documents but special attention should be given to prisoners of conscience who have been unjustly imprisoned. Zapata Tamayo, Cobas and Mendoza turned to hunger strikes as a last resort. Having chosen a path of nonviolence, they had no other weapon. They offered their bodies for what they believed was the greater good for all Cubans. It is time for the rest of the world to take notice.