The head of the dissident organization Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) announced Friday that the number of pro-democracy activists staging a hunger strike against the regime’s violence has risen to 43 people, following a week of raids of UNPACU members’ homes in which police beat and arbitrarily imprisoned many of its leaders.
UNPACU, along with several other dissident organizations, is protesting the imposition of a fraudulent vote on a new Communist Party constitution scheduled to take home on February 24. Miguel Díaz-Canel, the nation’s “president” and second-in-command to Communist Party leader Raúl Castro, already issued a statement this week saying the country will adopt the new constitution, which expands the state’s power, suggesting that the ruling tyranny will not take votes into consideration.
“There are now already 43 of us on the #HungerStrikeVsRepression,” UNPACU leader José Daniel Ferrer wrote on Twitter Friday, warning that there was a “danger” of a second round of beatings and arrests at the organizations Havana headquarters.
Ya somos 43 en #HuelgaHambreVsRepresion. Represores se esconden ante la cámara del celular y reciben instrucciones sobre si allanar y eliminar mi celular como represalia tras las últimas filmaciones. Peligro de que allanen de nuevo la sede de #UNPACU #Cuba por #YoVotoNO
— José Daniel Ferrer (@jdanielferrer) February 15, 2019
The number of those on hunger strike increased by seven overnight. On Thursday, several media outlets counted 36 people on hunger strike in defense of UNPACU and the pro-democracy movement on the island. Ferrer himself is on that list, as well as several members of the group who remain in prison following attacks on regional UNPACU headquarters. Several of those on the list are also veterans of past hunger strikes.
En este momento ya son 32 los miembros de #UNPACU en #HuelgaHambreVsRepresion. En protesta por la violencia gubernamental para callar todas las voces que promueven el #NoAlSistema este 24F.#ReferéndumIlegítimo#Cuba no tiene constitución#RegimenInconsulto #CubaDecide #Ni1Más pic.twitter.com/N0AqXSUtI6
— Rosa María Payá A. (@RosaMariaPaya) February 14, 2019
The hunger strikes began following a public statement from UNPACU leadership published this week revealing the Cuban regime had sent hundreds of officers to harass, assault, and imprison members of the group advocating for Cubans to vote “no” on the new constitution.
“Over 200 military troops and Cuban police, under the presence of high ranking members of the Ministry of the Interior, raided eight homes used as headquarters for UNPACU this midnight (Monday into Tuesday) with extreme violence,” the group revealed Tuesday. “Without officially registered orders and simultaneously, they broke through the fences of the homes with grinders and broke in beating anyone they found in these headquarters.”
Ferrer identified some of the victims at the time as elderly Cubans, minors, and pregnant women. He also personally suffered a violent blow to the head from which he is currently recovering. Ferrer insisted no officer showed any member of the group a warrant or explained what legal authority allowed them to raid the homes in question.
The U.S. embassy in Havana, which has suffered its own bouts with the physical deterioration of its diplomats, demanded an end to the violence on Wednesday.
“We energetically condemn the violent and cowardly acts of the Cuban regime against [José Daniel Ferrer] and the UNPACU activists,” a statement from the embassy posted on Twitter read. “The Cuban government represses peaceful requests for democratic change and once again shows that the constitutional reform is not about reform, but about staying in power.”
Condenamos enérgicamente actos violentos y cobardes del régimen cubano contra @jdanielferrer y activistas UNPACU. El gob #Cuba reprime pedidos pacíficos por un cambio democrático y muestra otra vez que el referéndum constitucional no trata de reforma, sino de permanecer en poder
— Embajada EE.UU. Cuba (@USEmbCuba) February 13, 2019
The constitutional referendum has prompted universal rejection from the Cuban dissident community, which has closely followed the unraveling of a similar project in Venezuela. There, dictator Nicolás Maduro staged a fraudulent election in May widely derided by NGOs and governments in the free world, which noted ample evidence of ballot stuffing, the use of violence to suppress anti-Maduro turnout, and the banning of non-socialist or communist opposition candidates from the ballot.
While groups like UNPACU are urging Cubans to vote against the new constitution, many groups are urging a complete boycott of the election, instead. Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and the heads of several dissident groups have argued that Cubans should take the example of the Venezuelans, 80 percent of which did not vote in the May presidential election. In January, Venezuela’s National Assembly used that statistic to argue that the election was not representative of the will of the people and, thus, Maduro was not legitimately president of Venezuela. The legislature has since replaced him with interim President Juan Guaidó, though Maduro refuses to leave the presidential palace and still control the military.
Those in the resistance who argue for the boycott also note that the date of the constitutional referendum, February 24, is the anniversary of the Brothers to the Rescue murders. On that date in 1996, the Cuban government shot down the planes of U.S. citizens Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales – all ethnic Cubans – who were flying legally in international waters searching for balseros, or Cuban refugees, to rescue. At the time, the Castro regime had temporarily allowed Cubans to leave the island if they chose to do so on makeshift maritime vehicles, hence giving them the nickname balseros (“rafters”). Brothers to the Rescue was an organization committed to saving the lives of those Cubans stranded in Caribbean waters on the way to the United States.
The Castro regime blatantly violated international law by killing the four civilians in international waters but, as President Bill Clinton did not use any of the available international tribunals to bring Cuba to justice, their families still advocate for the Cuban regime to pay for their crime to this day. Rather than support the families of the victims, President Obama freed the three remaining “Cuban Five” members in U.S. prison, the spies responsible for giving Havana the information necessary to target and kill the Americans.