World-renowned anti-communist Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas collapsed in his home Thursday on the 29th day of his 24th hunger strike and is now hospitalized and in critical condition, his mother has told international media.
Fariñas has been described as extremely weak and barely awake in the past week, having renounced both food and water as a form of protest against the communist regime of dictator Raúl Castro. He has said he will end his hunger strike when Castro vows to end the use of violence against political dissidents.
— Coco Farinas (@cocofarinas) August 18, 2016
— CANF (@voiceofcanf) August 18, 2016
Fariñas, known affectionately among the dissident community as “Coco,” announced his hunger strike in a video in July, in which he testified that he had been beaten and tortured by Cuban police for inquiring about the health of another dissident, Carlos Amel Oliva, who at the time was conducting a hunger strike. Fariñas says he was severely beaten and had his tongue pulled out “until it turned black.” He is demanding an end to state violence and the installation of a vice presidency to handle dissident concerns.
In the past week, Cuban intelligence operatives have reportedly found access to his mobile phone and used it to spread misinformation that Fariñas has ended his hunger strike. Babalú Blog’s Carlos Eire reported on Thursday that Fariñas’s phone now redirects to “someone who pretends to be a dissident disseminat[ing] misinformation about Fariñas, saying that he has broken his hunger strike and is drinking juice and chicken broth.”
“While he is conscious, he does not allow us to take him to the hospital, but once he faints, we bring him to urgent care,” his mother, Alicia Hernández, told the Miami-based Martí Noticias. He has currently awakened, according to his dissident organization’s website, but remains extremely weak.
Speaking with Fox News Latino, Hernández confirmed that Fariñas has lost 30 pounds in as many days and suffers from extremely low blood pressure and heart rate. “He needs help to get out of bed, he is extremely weak… The injuries from the beating the police here put him through are slowly healing, but he is dehydrated and has muscle fatigue and is barely awake,” she noted.
On his 24th such protest, Hernández acknowledged she was unable to stop her son from protesting. “There is no talking him out of going on a hunger strike or fighting for liberty and human rights,” she told Fox News Latino. “When he started the hunger strike, it upset him greatly when people told him to stop for his health. I see that he gets very agitated, and I don’t want his health worsening because of the stress.”
In addition to attacking Fariñas, thus leading to this strike, officials have arrested other high-profile dissidents seeking information on his health. Berta Soler, the head of the dissident group Ladies in White, was arrested on the way from Havana to Fariñas’s native Santa Clara, Las Villas, and forced to return home. Soler says she intended to attempt to convince Fariñas to end the hunger strike.
Fariñas’s health is particularly delicate because of the damage he has done to his body on the 23 other occasions he has gone on hunger strike — before the current hunger strike, he needed eleven different medications a day to keep his body functional and was unable to wear closed-toe shoes due to his heightened risk for blood clots.
Cuban communist officials have not issued any statements on Fariñas’s health, though his status as a laureate of the prestigious EU Andrei Sakharov Prize for human rights advocacy makes him an especially high-profile dissident, and international observers have expressed concern about his health. There is concern that Cuban officials may force-feed him if he is hospitalized again, as they have done to dissidents in the past. Force-feeding hunger strikers is a human rights violation as per the UN, as it is the silencing of political expression.