Hunger strikes in Castro’s Cuba: A half century of valiant, fruitless protest

No news on Guillermo Fariñas this morning.

In case you’ve been wondering why anyone would undertake such a horrific form of self-immolation, knowing that it will most probably be fruitless, consider this: political prisoners in Cuba have been carrying out hunger strikes since the 1960’s, and many of them have died.

If you would like to know more about this topic, José Antonio Albertini has published a book ,Cuba y castrismo: Huelgas de hambre en el presidio político, that traces the history of hunger-striking political prisoners in Cuba.

To make a long and very sad story short: Sometimes the hunger strikes bring small changes in the Castro prison system, but, for the most part, those changes are pitifully small.

Even worse, the hunger strikers attract very little or no attention at all outside of the Cuban community.

Here is a list of some of the best-known hunger strikers who have died as a result of their fasting:

From Marti Noticias:

Roberto López Chávez, age 25, died on 12/11/1966 at Isla de Pinos prison.  He was jailed in 1961, at the age of 20.  Began his hunger strike after being savagely beaten by a guard.  Denied water by the guards as punishment for his hunger strike, he died in his cell without medical attention after a guard urinated in his mouth.

Luis Álvarez Ríos, age 31 años, died on 8/9/1967 at Castillo del Príncipe prison in Havana.  He was serving a 20-year sentence for “counterrevolutionary” activities. He and other political prisoners began a hunger strike to protest their incarceration alongside criminal inmates.  After eleven days, prison authorities agreed to negotiate and he and the others ceased their hunger strike, but after eating his first meal he died without medical attention.

Francisco Aguirre Vidarrueta, died in September 1967 at Castillo del Príncipe prison in Havana.  He was protesting the use of the same color uniform for political prisoners and common criminals.

Carmelo Cuadra Hernández, died on 7/29/1969 in a Havana prison while on hunger strike, without medical attention.

Pedro Luis Boitel,  age 34 años, died on  5/25/1972 at Castillo del Príncipe prison in Havana. His ten year sentence repeatedly extended because of his protests against the cruelty of the Castro prison system, he was tortured and abused by guards during his hunger strike and died on the 53rd day without medical assistance.  His agonizing death is described in detail by Armando Valladares in Against All Hope.



Olegario Charlot Spileta, died on 1/15/1973 at Boniato prison in  Santiago de Cuba, while on hunger strike, without medical attention.

Enrique García Cuevas, died on 5/23/1973 at the provincial prison of  Pretensado, Las Villas. Began his hunger strike to protest forced labor and the inhumane treatment of prisoners.  Died on the 25th day of his hunger strike without medical attention.

Reinaldo Cordero Izquierdo, died on 5/21/1975 at a prison in Pinar del Río.  Began his hunger strike to protest the arbitrary extension of his ten year sentence.  He died without medical attention.

José Barrios Pedré, died on 9/22/1977 at Las Pretensado prison, Las Villas.

Santiago Roche Valle, died on  9/8/1985 at Kilo 7 prison, Camagüey.

Nicolás González Regueiro, died 9/16/1992 at Manacas prison, Las Villas.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, age 42 años, died on 2/23/2010, on the 82nd day of his hunger strike, which he began to protest the beatings and torture to which he had been subjected.  He was denied water for the final 18 days and died without medical attention.

Wilman Villar Mendoza, age 31, died on 1/13/2012 at Juan Bruno Zayas hospital, Santiago de Cuba, after a 50-day hunger strike.

In addition, here is a partial list of well-known political prisoners who have survived prolonged hunger strikes:

Huber Matos Benítez, Roberto Martín Pérez, Amado Jesús Rodríguez Fernández, José Antonio (Tony) Lamas de la Torre, Reinaldo Aquit Manrique, Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez, Mario Chanes de Armas, Ángel De Fana Serrano, Eddie Artze Molina, Rigoberto Acosta Díaz, María Amalia Fernández del Cueto, Olga Morgan y Maritza Lugo Fernández.

Marti Noticias has more details, HERE, in Spanish.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo