Guillermo Fariñas Hernández spilt his blood for Communist Cuba while serving in the Cuban Special forces, but today he is one of the most famous Cuban dissidents fighting for human rights in Cuba. The Havana regime locked Guillermo Fariñas in prison for a total of 11 years, where he conducted 23 hunger strikes. He was ready to die for his struggle against censorship in communist Cuba.
Guillermo Fariñas fight for human rights in Cuba was one of the reasons for him being awarded the Sakharov Prize in the European Parliament in 2010. He continues the fight and has asked Lithuania for help. More about his incredible life and his pledge in Lithuanian in this interview which was conducted in Vilnius on December 9, just a day prior to the International Human Rights Day.
The Lithuania Tribune: Guillermo Fariñas, could you say a few words about yourself, Mr Guillermo Fariñas Hernánde?
GF: I am a person who was born in the marginal neighborhood in Santa Clara. I was a member of the military in Cuba, I have fought in Angola and other countries for Cuba. I went to the Soviet Union and right in the Soviet Union realized that the Communism was a big lie.
Why was that the Soviet Union, but not Cuba where you realized that the Communism was a big lie?
In the Soviet Union, I was in Tambov.
1982, was it?
1982. There was a great history thereof guerrillas fighting against Communism. And what the Communists did in the Soviet Union, in Tambov to suppress this rebellion made me realize that the Communism wasn’t viable, wasn’t something that you could apply what they did there to repress these guerrilla fighters, this rebellion was known as the Tambov Wolves.
And then the perestroika came to the Soviet Union. And perestroika was ignited all Eastern Europe and, of course, the Baltic States. Mr. Guillermo Fariñas what happened that it did not take place in Cuba?
There was no political will from the part of the Cuban Government to do changes in Cuba. I was a defender of the glasnost and perestroika, this kind of changes, and I was about to be expelled from the university where I was as a student because I was advocating modifications like in the Soviet Union.
By the way, the person who wanted to expel me from the university because I was defending perestroika, was the person who is the President of Cuba now, Miguel Díaz-Canel. He was the first secretary of the Young Communist Union at the university at that time.
So, he made a career, but you, Mr Guillermo Fariñas have a Prize. He has a career, but you have a Prize which is one of the most famous prizes in the world for defending democratic values. What was the reason for you to receive Sakharov Prize in 2010?
There was a position or life in that. There was a political prisoner who died on a hunger strike. And if we would not do anything at that time, many political prisoners might have died. So, I was demanding freedom for political prisoners because they all were in danger after Orlando Zapata Tamayo died. The Government couldn’t afford the luxury of letting other people die on a hunger strike, after the assassination of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. I call it assassination as Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on a hunger strike in prison in Havana because the Government denied medical aid.
So, because the Government couldn’t afford the luxury of having another prisoner dying on a hunger strike, I started the hunger strike demanding the same what Orlando Zapata Tamayo was demanding. And that what brought Sakharov Prize to me.
Mr. Guillermo Fariñas How did you get into the protest action – I am not sure if it’s an underground movement, but into the protest action? Were you part of an organization? Are you part of the organization or are you as a person fighting for the human rights in Cuba?
I first started as an individual. I committed with my father, who already died that I have to finish university studies. Because he after being fighting for the Government of Cuba in Congo and Angola, he couldn’t graduate the university. He was very disappointed by the revolution. He used to be a member of the 26th of July Movement, the movement which carried on the revolution in Cuba. So, there was a commitment within the family that I was going to break with the Government openly after I graduate from the university.
There was an event after I graduated which allowed me to openly break with the Government, the execution by a firing squad of General Ochoa Sanchez I was expelled from the Young Communists Union, I belonged to and I was transferred from the province where I was working, in Santa Clara, to another province, which is Sancti Spiritus as a punishment for criticizing the Government. The local government didn’t me a house in Sancti Spiritus, in that province, because there used to be a house for any health professional in Cuba or psychiatrist like me. Because I was not politically trustable for the Government. So I went to Havana to find a job. There were more possibilities in Havana.
When I started working in 1991, in those times the opposition was mostly located in Havana. Very close to the hospital where I was working at that time – that was Pedro Borrás Hospital in Havana – dissident Orlando Morejón Vitón used to live. He was the son of the people who were displaced. There were guerrilla fighters against the Communism and all their families were taken out from their homes and relocated, forcibly relocated, in other provinces.
The first organization I belonged to was Democratic Bloc, August et Democratic Bloc – that was the name of the organization. The state security police already knew that I was in those anti-government groups. They made an analysis and they realized that I can turn into what I am right now. They gave me possibilities to have a master’s degree, to go to Colombia, maybe, to give me a chance to get married and start working marry in another place, to get away from Cuban opposition groups. They have told me that officers of the state security police have said to me that.
I had a German girlfriend who was a student in Cuba. She was practically placed in front of me by the ICAP (Instituto cubano de amistad con los Pueblos), State Cuban Institute for friendship with other people, it is like a branch of the state security police. To see if she can take me to Germany.
DDR, Eastern Germany?
Yes, Eastern Germany, at that time. Because they knew that I used to be a cadet of special troops in the army, so they knew that I am well prepared to confront them. They were trying to avoid the confrontation.
When the Cuban Government shot down two small aircraft coming from Miami, from the Brothers to the Rescue, who were rescuing people who were trying to escape from Cuba in rafts, when that happens, there was huge repression down in Cuba against the dissident groups. They made that repression to break down a coalition of dissident groups called Concilio Cubano.
Which year we are talking now?
1996. 24th of February 1996. That was the first time I went to prison. They took me to prison as a political prisoner where they tried to accuse me of a criminal offense. Because I used to be the Secretary-General of the trade union, the official trade union, for the reason that I accused the director of the hospital, which used to be a member of the Politburo in Cuba – I accused her of corruption. They took me out of the charge as a political prisoner because of Concilio Cubano meeting and they charged me as a criminal offense of defamation against this member of the Politburo.
Finally, after all, that they accused me, they presented several charges against me, fabricated charges that I had a weapon and I tried to kill her. But the idea was to get me out of the National health system.
In the end, I was convicted, they called it the moral conviction of the judges because there was no evidence against me. The judges recognized that there was no evidence against me, so they sanctioned me by conviction and that was the way to take me out of the national health system. [“Conviction” is a twisted argument used by Cuban authorities to send a person to jail because they are “convinced” that he/she is guilty, without the need of proofs or evidence.]
I had to go back to my native city Santa Clara in the center of Cuba. We organized a protest because Che Gevara remains were taken to Santa Clara, to a mausoleum. That was my second time going to prison.
And my third time was because I was attacked by an agent of the security police in Cuba. He produced an injury in my arm. That was my third sentence, third time going to prison again. The judges didn’t accept my allegations that it was only self-defense against the attacker, so I declared myself on a hunger strike. I was 18 months in a hunger strike. That’s when I lost my hair. I was fasting; I was moved to the hospital that is why I didn’t die. So I’m alive because of a miracle.
In 1988-1989 Lithuania, the Baltic States were boiling, and it was a lot of civil activities, perestroika was happening in this part of the Soviet Union. Mr. Guillermo Fariñas when you are in Cuba, did you know about what was happening in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, about the Singing Revolution?
Yes, we all knew. Because we read the Sputnik Magazine, Moscow News, also we had Radio Marti from the United States. We knew about the human chain. Everybody knew!
When Raul Castro changed Fidel Castro, has anything changed in Cuba?
Yes. What change was that: Fidel Castro put in prison for political reasons, he was straightforward with that, you work against the Government – you go to jail for political purpose. Raul Castro changed the system of repression. He started using paramilitaries to repress people in order also to push you to get out of the country.
The main difference between them is that Raul Castro has a mediocre vision of the world. He believes that he is an average person. Fidel Castro used to have that vision of the world as a sultan. He was above everything – that was his vision.
The world is experiencing a decline of democracies; index of democracies is shrinking in the world. Mr, Guillermo Fariñas, why do you think is that? And what does it mean for Cuban people?
I think this is happening because people are seeing that the majority of the governments do not serve the people; they do not serve the public. There has been a lot of cases of corruption, many cases of political manipulation. Unfortunately, ordinary citizens are very disappointed, very disillusioned about the political class in many countries in the world.
Enemies of democracy take advantage of this situation to assume the populist position and they start creating what might be called the ‘perfect dictatorships’. This is a term used by very famous Mexican intellectual Octavio Paz. He used to say that the Mexican Government under the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – Institutional Revolutionary Party) was a perfect dictatorship because it was a dictatorship with an illusion that there is a democracy: there were elections every 6th year and the party stays in power and only the person changes, so that’s he said it’s a perfect dictatorship.
So, we have lost the sense, the idea that politicians do politics to serve the people. Not to take advantage of the citizens, but to serve the people. That is why the index of democracy is declining in the world.
The message to the Cuban people is the message of frustration. The Cuban government knows that to prosper, they need representative democracy.
President Donald Trump has closed the borders to the United States. That was a dream that many people in Cuba have. They got tired of not having a solution, and they got tired of being abused by the Cuban Government. Cubans now are being deported from Central and South American countries back to Cuba. All that has created a great level of potential for a social explosion in Cuba. The great challenge for the political opposition in Cuba is to be in front of that social explosion in order to prevent bloodshed in Cuba.
The final message is that we need the experience of Lithuania, who suffered Communism and now is prosperous society. We have to be thankful for all levels of society and even the Government in Lithuania that the Lithuanian Parliament is the only parliament right now that has refused until now to ratify the EU-Cuba cooperation agreement.
Thank you Mr. Guillermo Fariñas. We appreciate a lot what you do.
Appeal by Lic Guillermo Fariñas Hernández Sakharov Prize Laureate 2010 / United Anti Totalitarian Front, andLic Omar López Montenegro Human Rights Director / Cuban American National Foundation
To the Parliament (Seimas) of Lithuania
To the Government of Lithuania
To the Catholic Church in Lithuania
To the citizens of the Republic of Lithuania
Vilnius, 9-10 December 2019
We, the undersigned, visiting Lithuania on the Human Rights Day, December 10th,
– having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory, and to the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) between the European Union and Cuba signed in December 2016 and provisionally applied since 1 November 2017;
– expressing our regret that despite the adopted PDCA, the situation of democracy and human rights has not improved in Cuba as the binding obligations established under the PDCA between the EU and Cuba have not been fulfilled;
– being highly concerned over the continuous persecution, harassment, attacks against peaceful dissidents, independent journalists, human rights defenders and political opposition in Cuba; whereas according to several NGOs, there are more than 120 political prisoners in Cuba; whereas many independent journalists, peaceful dissidents and human rights defenders, who are mostly members of the democratic opposition, are being persecuted, arbitrarily detained or held in jail in Cuba, in particular, José Daniel Ferrer, José Guía Piloto, Silverio Portal Contreras, Mitzael Díaz Paseiro, Edilberto Ronal Azuaga, Eliecer Bandera Barrera and Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces; remembering political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo who died in 2010 during a hunger strike and Armando Sosa Fortuny, the longest detained Cuban political prisoner, who had spent 43 years in prison and died on 28 October 2019, and the Cuban authorities had not agreed to release him from prison despite his declining health;
We appeal to the Seimas (Parliament) of the Republic of Lithuania, the Government of Lithuania, the Catholic Church in Lithuania as well as all citizens of Lithuania asking for:
To firmly and publicly condemn the persecution and harassment of peaceful dissidents, independent journalists, human rights defenders and political opposition in Cuba, and to take all necessary actions to defend democracy and human rights which are universal, they shall apply to everyone and every day.
To urge the Cuban government to immediately and unconditionally release José Daniel Ferrer and other prisoners of conscience in Cuba, in adherence to the European Parliament resolution on Cuba, the case of José Daniel Ferrer of November 28th, 2019, and express to the Cuban government that it is binding for the successful development of EU-Cuban relations.
To request the Cuban government to stop the practice of “regulation”, the term used by Cuban authorities to disguise the denial of the freedom to travel to human rights and civil society activists, who are not allowed to leave the country to attend conferences, workshops and even receive awards abroad.
To not ratify or to postpone the discussion about the Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and the European Union until the Cuban government meets points 2 and 3 or initiate credible steps towards that goal.
To facilitate the participation of independent (not controlled by the Cuban government) human rights, political opposition and civil society organizations in the talks about human rights under the Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and the European Union. The Sakharov Prize Laureates should lead and serve as a reference in the process of selecting these organizations inside Cuba.
To initiate the full recognition from the European Union to the independent civil society organizations inside Cuba without the need from them to be “legalized” by the Cuban government. The regime systematically denies the official registration to these organizations, violating even its own laws, so it is impossible for these organizations to be recognized inside Cuba.
To propose the establishment of a systematic mechanism to review the state of human rights and civil society inside Cuba, and to link this situation to the continuity or ratification of the Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and the European Union.
Lic Guillermo Fariñas Hernández
Sakharov Prize Laureate 2010 / United Anti Totalitarian Front
Lic Omar López Montenegro
Human Rights Director / Cuban American National Foundation