There has been a persistent attempt to link the Irish hunger strikes with the Cuban regime, as epitomised in 2001 when Gerry Adams unveiled a memorial in Havana to Bobby Sands and the nine other men who died in 1981.
|Activists under siege at the Isidro Movement headquarters in Havana, Cuba|
Just last month, black Cuban activist, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, was forcibly-fed following a week-long hunger and thirst strike. Alcantara is a member of the San Isidro group that opposes the stifling censorship of artists, writers and other creative persons under the dictatorship that has been in power since 1959.
|File Image: Dissident artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara speaks during an interview in Havana|
San Isidro is a predominantly black working class section of Havana. Last November, another member, the rapper Denis Solis, was arrested and sentenced to eight months in the maximum security prison of Valle Grande, a place notorious for the torture and degradation of Cuban political detainees.
The constantly-triggered Ógra Shinn Féin failed to post any outraged tweets about this – nor did any of the other Irish “comrades” of oppressed black people. There were no photo-events with impassioned fist-clenching or kneeling – or calling for their embassy pals to be expelled.
On February 23, 2010, another black Cuban activist, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died following 85 days on hunger strike after being forcibly fed. He had been sentenced to 36 years for “public disorder” and “disobedience.”
Tamayo had gone on hunger strike to demand, like the Blanketmen in the H Blocks, that he be allowed to wear white – the symbol of Cuban resistance – rather than the degrading prison uniform.
You would imagine that this might have elicited some sympathy for Tamayo among those who claim the legacy of the H Block men. Instead, the Bobby Sands Trust, an entity with close links to Sinn Féin that is opposed by the Sands family which has accused it of exploiting Bobby’s legacy for political and commercial gain, regurgitated Cuban state lies about Tamayo.
The Trust published a statement by Alain de Benoist in response to a suggestion that Tamayo might be honoured in Ireland, which repeated the Castroist claim that Tamayo was a criminal who had gone on hunger strike to have a TV and a mobile phone in his cell!
Tamayo was in fact one of the leaders of MAR, the Republican Alternative Movement, a group that opposes the totalitarian state, and campaigns for democracy. He had been arrested in 2003 during a crackdown on activists, not for attacking someone with a machete as was claimed by the Cubans and parroted by their sycophants abroad.
Hunger strikes and the refusal to conform to brutal prison conditions have been used in protest from the very foundation of the Communist state. Huber Matos was one of the Commandantes of the July 26 Movement that overthrew Batista but was imprisoned in 1959 by Castro when he objected to Castro’s installation of the tiny Communist Party which had not even been a formal part of the movement. Castro was filmed during the rebellion in the Sierra Maestra mountains declaring in English that he was not a Marxist, and that the objective was to replace Batista with a democratic government.
Matos was brutally tortured over the course of 20 years spent in the Cuban gulags. He claims that another hero of the revolution, Camilo Cienfuegos, Chief of Staff of the army, who was sent to arrest him had attempted to intervene with Fidel. Cienfuegos died a week later in a plane crash but the plane was never recovered. Guevara denied that Cienfuegos had been murdered but offered the theory that the plane had been mistaken for an “intruder.” Matos and others were convinced that Cienfuegos was another victim along with many members of the rebel army purged by the Castros.
Matos spent 35 days on hunger strike, one of many that has taken place during the course of the prison resistance to the Communists. Those who refused to conform by wearing the prison uniform or to attend indoctrination courses or to inform were known as Los Plantados – the Immovables.
In the documentary Nadie Escuchaba – Nobody Listened – one former prisoner Jorge Valles who was held in the horrific La Cabana prison described how having been deprived of physical freedom that it became curiously the only free space where amid the daily tortures and executions, “free thinking dwelt behind prison walls” among the diverse Catholic, anarchist, democratic and leftist opponents of the regime.
It is difficult to believe that Bobby Sands who wrote about “the inner thing in every man” that “lights the dark of this prison cell” would have been happy to have his name sullied by being associated with the torturers of the Cuban prisoners whose ongoing prison struggle mirrors that of Irish republicans from Thomas Ashe to the Blanketmen.