As the White House begins to hint that President Barack Obama would like to visit Cuba before his term is over, a political prisoner freed and re-arrested due to the U.S.-Cuba “normalization” deal has lost cognitive functions as he struggles to survive his 87th day on a hunger strike.
Vladimir Morera Bacallao, an anti-Communist activist, was released along with 53 other prisoners of conscience in January 2015 following President Obama’s speech a month earlier announcing he would make concessions to the regime of dictator Raúl Castro. He was arrested again following an incident in April 2015, in which he posted a sign on his door mocking Cuba’s legislative elections, in which only Communist Party members can participate. The sign read: “I vote for my freedom, and not in one of those elections where I can’t even choose a president.” He was sentenced to serve four years in prison in November, and has been on a hunger strike since October 9.
Morera Bacallo reached day 80 of his hunger strike on December 28. Today is his 87th day without food.
Family members say the Cuban government has denied most of them access to Morera Bacallao, currently in critical condition in a hospital in Santa Clara in central Cuba. “The authorities have not answered us,” Maribel Herrera, Morera Bacallao’s wife, told the Spain-based Diario de Cuba. “They just tell us that we have to help him stop his protest because, otherwise, he is going to die.” Herrera says she last heard of her husband’s condition from his sister, who found him “very disoriented, he did not know where he was or if he was under arrest.”
On day 80 of his hunger strike, Morera Bacallo’s sister reported that he did not recognize her or and seemed unaware of who other members of his family were. At the time, the U.S. State Department issued a statement that the White House was “profoundly concerned” about the situation. Six days later, a White House spokesman said President Obama is considering a diplomatic trip to the island – not to visit the prisoners of conscience, but to negotiate with the Castro government.
There are unconfirmed reports that the Castro government, fearing the negative publicity of yet another prisoner of conscience dying during a hunger strike, has begun to force-feed Morera Bacallao. According to a Twitter account claiming to be run by Librado Linares, a fellow dissident who has remained outside the hospital throughout his ordeal, he is “practically being forced to eat, he is in slow recovery.” The account also accuses doctors of issuing a “substance that affects his conscience” to make it easier to feed him. Breitbart News could not independently verify the authenticity of this account.
— Librado Linares (@LibradoLinare) January 4, 2016
#CUBA A duras penas Vladimir Morera confiesa q le suministran sustancia q afecto su consciencia(se arranca suero) y asi lo hacen comer
— Librado Linares (@LibradoLinare) January 4, 2016
Adding to the possibility that the Cuban government is concerned with how the death of a political prisoner by hunger strike could affect its new business dealings with the United States is the surfacing of pro-Castro internet trolls claiming Morera Bacallao to not be a political prisoner, but a “common delinquent.”
The events surrounding Morera Bacallao’s first arrest, for which he received an eight-year sentence, are unclear. Independent Cuban outlet 14 y medio reports that a member of the Cuban communist party injured herself on wet cement surrounding Morera Bacallo’s home “that was hurled there” by unidentified assailants, and he was blamed for her injury. Morera Bacallo’s relatives said then that he had been arrested while trying to intervene on behalf of dissidents receiving a state-sponsored group beating for publicly condemning the Castro regime.
Morera Bacallao has survived longer than a number of Cuban dissidents who have recently died of a hunger strike. In 2012, Wilmar Villar, a prisoner protesting an alleged Cuban government “amnesty” that excluded prisoners of conscience, died 50 days into his strike. Orlando Zapata Tamayo, whose death by hunger strike allegedly prompted the false amnesty gesture, died after 85 days on strike. Zapata Tamayo went on hunger strike to protest repeated beatings he received in prison.
Morera had previously survived a 68-day hunger strike in April 2014.
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), an independent research group that releases monthly reports on political arrests, announced this week that the Castro regime had made 8,616 politically-motivated arrests in 2015, most occurring in the tail end of the year. The regime rounded out December with the third-largest number of political arrests: 930. The largest number of arrests occurred in November, 1,447.
Despite the exponential surge in political oppression in Cuba since President Obama’s normalization announcement, American politicians continue to court the rogue nation. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has just arrived on the island hoping to establish business ties between Virginia and the Castro regime. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, made a similar trip last month. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel just returned from a vacation there (it is illegal to vacation in Cuba).