Guillermo Fariñas was doing what he has done for years — denouncing the communist regime of Cuba's Castro brothers, and spreading the word about how opponents to the brothers are persecuted.
Only this time, the 51-year-old dissident was speaking his mind outside Cuba, in a Fox News television studio in Manhattan, N.Y.
Fariñas is one of several high-profile Cuban dissidents and former political prisoners who received rare permission this year to leave the island and travel abroad.
The permission for Fariñas’ trip came after many years of denials of his requests to travel outside Cuba, usually to pick up international human rights awards.
Cuba does not belong to Fidel or Raul, it belongs to all Cubans of all different viewpoints. I am Cuban and I have a right to live there.
- Guillermo Fariñas
Fariñas is best known for waging hunger strikes in his fight for liberty in Cuba.
Over the past few years, hunger strikes have become an anti-establishment tactic that has been used frequently in Cuba, above all after cases like that of Fariñas, who holds the record with more than 24 hunger strikes.
Some of his hunger strikes have lasted for so long – 134 days, for example – that his condition has turned grave at times, even causing a potentially a fatal blood clot in his neck at one point.
Why does he do it?
“You have to keep fighting,” he told Fox News Latino in an interview Friday. “Someone has to fight this struggle to free Cuba. The love for my country is what keeps me going.”
Cuban government security forces have pressured Fariñas to tone down his opposition to the regime. They have threatened him, and thrown him in jail three times.
The first time, in the mid-1990s, he was in jail for almost two years. The second time it was three years, and the third time it was seven years.
“They were more aggressive when no one really knew me outside Cuba,” said Fariñas, a soft-spoken, tall, lanky man who is a trained psychologist and freelance journalist. “Now it’s more restrained, but still persistent and very concerted. They’re just more careful about not beating or doing anything too overt because there’s more international awareness about me now, so they know that anything they do will become known outside Cuba.”
Still, like other vocal dissidents, Fariñas concedes he is not immune to feeling afraid of the regime.
“I’ll be honest, I am afraid often,” he said, “but I overcome it. The government has to know by now that what it does to me, I have countermeasures to fight them. If they push too hard, I will go on a hunger strike. It’s my way of fighting them, in the hope that they’ll reconsider what they’re doing to me or other opponents.”
On Jan. 14 a new law took effect scrapping the permit known as the "white card," which Cuba routinely denied to those it considers "counterrevolutionaries" working for foreign interests and bent on undermining the communist government.
That is what paved the way for dissidents like Fariñas and Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, denounced by the regime as traitors to the Cuban revolution, to be able to leave the island to visit other nations.
Sanchez came to the U.S. in February and went back to Cuba after four months, and Fariñas said he will return home in July.
He said he has no intentions of trying to stay in the United States.
"Cuba does not belong to Fidel or Raúl, it belongs to all Cubans of all different viewpoints," he said. "I am Cuban and I have a right to live there, in freedom."
He favors the embargo, because he said that to lift it would be to "provide oxygen to the regime."
"The U.S. must not lift the embargo in the absence of any real move by the Cuban government to make democratic reforms," he said.
Like other dissidents who have been in the United States on travel visas, Fariñas said the fact that he and other government critics have had the rare chance to leave Cuba this year should be interpreted as a new openness by the regime of Raul Castro.
"The Cuban government does these things to make it seem like it's softening," he said, "so that the European Union and the United States can extend it [financial] credit."
One of the highlights of his travels in the United States has been to meet Cuban exiles for the first time.
"I'd only spoken to them on the telephone," he said. "While I've opted to stay in Cuba and fight for liberty there, I do not fault the fellow Cubans who came here and stayed here. They are in the world superpower, they have succeeded, they have all they need, all the comforts, and yet they continue to fight for liberty in Cuba, they do not forget their homeland."
"And I am so heartened and proud to see that they are passing on their love of Cuba and devotion to seeing it free to the younger generation of Cubans here."
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
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