Two Cubans on a Hunger Strike Demanding Rights

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara y Ariel Ruiz Urquiola

By Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES – I admire them; it’s the only channel they have left to demand their rights, they are fighting with the only weapon they have left: their bodies.

Pushing your body to the limit isn’t a game, it carries life, whether they die or don’t reach this fatal end. In the meantime, the body wears down and weakens, you may suffer organ failure, or an organ might stop working properly, which would reduce your quality of life.

There are Cubans, as I speak, who are in danger of dying because they prefer this to living without any dignity. You have to respect every person’s decision, even when we don’t agree with their form of struggle; but turning a blind eye is another thing. It’s impossible not to feel anxious as days pass by and their bodies weaken.

Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara is once again putting his body up against the Government’s plans. A government that restricts his freedom, has slandered his reputation and is very afraid of him. The Cuban Government sentenced him to five years in prison for ordinary crimes such as public disorder, indecent assault of patriotic symbols over a period of time (with his performance piece Drapeu) and contempt. However, we all know that Luis Manuel is in prison because of his art and activism, even if they’re trying to cover it up. For using his art to stop the Government’s boot from trampling all over him, for trying to get all of us to wake up and avoid this trampling. He isn’t a terrorist, he’s a bothersome artist they want to keep quiet. Luis Manuel is demanding his immediate release, without having to go into exile, like the Government has bargained with other dissidents.

Biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola is also standing up to the Government, this time as a human rights representative at an international level. He is demanding the UN take a firm stance against human rights violations committed by the Cuban Government against his family. On June 25th, his sister, the academic and activist Omara Ruiz Urquiola, wasn’t able to board a plane heading for Cuba, her country of residence. The airline informed her that they wouldn’t be able to take her home, because the Cuban Government has banned her entry into her own country, to punish her for her political activism.

Totalitarianism doesn’t forgive dissidence.

This isn’t the first time that Ariel and Luis Manuel have held hunger strikes, and that is why it’s so dangerous for both of their health.

Ariel is holding his hunger strike in public, on a street in Geneva, right outside the UN Human Rights Office. Luis Manuel is in a prison cell in Cuba, isolated, in the darkest silence.

Both of their suffering is a symbol of resistance and bravery, but I can’t stop but think that they are also bodies, bodies that could perish.

Read more from Irina Echarry’s diary here.