Monday, May 10, 2021

Project Varela: Christian Liberation Movement recalls when thousands of Cuban citizens demanded change in Cuba.

We do not forget, we do not betray our principles and values, we are consistent, without fanfare, with serene courage, with generosity, without hatred but without fear: Long live the Varela Project !!! - Regis Iglesias Ramirez, May 10, 2021 over Twitter

Oswaldo Payá, Antonio Diaz, and Regis Iglesias turn in petitions to National Assembly on 5/10/02

Milan Kundera, the Czech writer, in his 1999 novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting observed that "the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." Memory provides context to unfolding events today, and helps to render informed judgements.

For example, nineteen years ago on May 10, 2002, carrying 11,020 signed petitions in support of the Varela Project, the Christian Liberation Movement's Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias Ramirez walked to the Cuban National Assembly with bulky cardboard boxes labeled Project Varela. The Christian Liberation Movement was founded by Catholic lay people in Havana in September 1988, and is part of a non-violent dissident movement that traces its origins and influences to the Cuban Committee for Human Rights that was founded in 1976. Today Regis Iglesias commemorated the anniversary in a Tweet (the content is translated in the quote at the top of the blog entry.)

The Varela Project, named after the Cuban Catholic Priest Felix Varela, sought to reform the Cuban legal system to bring it in line with international human rights standards. They had followed the letter of the law in organizing the campaign.

Former President James Carter visited Cuba in May 2002 and on May 15th gave a speech at the University of Havana, where he advocated for the lifting of economic sanctions on Cuba and "called for the Varela Project petition to be published in the official newspaper so that people could learn about it."

Yet the dictatorship's response to the nonviolent citizen's initiative, and to President Carter's request, was to coerce Cubans into signing another petition declaring the Constitution unchangeable and quickly passed it through the rubber stamp legislature. The Varela Project was not presented for debate before the National Assembly, which according to then existing law drafted by the Castro dictatorship meant that it should have been debated in that legislative body.

President James Carter at the University of Havana.

Less than a year later beginning on March 18, 2003 the Black Cuban Spring would begin with a massive crackdown on Cuba's civil society with many of the organizers of Project Varela, imprisoned and summarily sentenced up to 28 years in prison. The 75 activists who had been imprisoned with long prison sentences became known as the "group of the 75." During the Black Cuban Spring Antonio Diaz Sanchez was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Regis Iglesias Ramirez was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Havana announced, at the time, that the Cuban dissident movement had been destroyed. They spoke prematurely. First, the remaining activists who were still free continued gathering signatures and would turn in another 14,384 petition signatures on October 5, 2003, and they continued to gather more. Furthermore, the wives, sisters and daughters of the activists who had been detained and imprisoned organized themselves into the "Ladies in White." A movement that sought the freedom of their loved ones and organized regular marches through the streets of Cuba, despite regime organized violence visited upon them. This new movement was led by Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, a former school teacher.

Founder of the Ladies in White, Laura Pollán

Antonio Diaz Sanchez and Regis Iglesias Ramirez were released from prison into forced exile in 2010. Today marking this anniversary of the Varela Project, Regis Iglesias's following statement was published by the Christian Liberation Movement.

"Until now the only response to the more than 35,000 citizens who have supported this initiative has been persecution, kidnapping, prison, exile and murder. But until political pluralism and freedom of information are recognized and guaranteed, until economic freedoms are recognized for Cubans, an amnesty is not decreed, a new electoral law is not approved where citizens can be nominated by the people, and elections are not held in the midst of an environment of respect for popular sovereignty, diversity of opinions and we can freely choose the government that represents Cubans, we will not renounce to maintain our civic demand, remembering that the Cuban regime is a gangster regime that does not respect the rights of citizens or the sovereignty of Cubans."

President Carter made a second trip to Cuba in March 2011, and did not publicly mention Project Varela during that visit, but instead focused efforts on trading Alan Gross for the remaining members of the WASP network jailed in the United States on charges of espionage, and murder conspiracy that killed three Americans and a US resident in 1996, and calling for the lifting of economic sanctions on the Castro regime. President Carter also downplayed the threat of FARC, ETA, and ELN terrorists harbored in Cuba.

Less than two months after the visit, Cuban dissident and former political prisoner, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (age 46) was arrested and beaten to death by Cuban regime police while protesting the dictatorship and died early on Sunday May 8, 2011. Months later on October 15, 2011 Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died under suspicious circumstances at the Calixto Garcia hospital.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was killed on July 22, 2012 together with Harold Cepero, a youth leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, in a car "accident" that all the hallmarks of a state security operation copied after the East German Stasi, who trained intelligence operatives in the Castro regime.

Revisiting and remembering these historic moments is part of the struggle against forgetting, and the conversation that it may arouse will only serve, when backed up with facts, to strengthen memory with truth. Memory, and retentiveness are defenses against the Castro regime's totalitarian rewriting of history. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

10 years ago Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, father of two, died from brutal beating by police while peacefully protesting

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie Wiesel, Night 

Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia murdered by police in Cuba, and children he left behind

Ten years ago today Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (age 46) who had been arrested and beaten by Castro's revolutionary police on May 5, 2011 while protesting the dictatorship died three days later on May 8th from injuries sustained. Reuters, the BBC, CNN, AP, EFE  and others reported the death of this Cuban dissident and former political prisoner. He was so badly beaten that he required hospitalization

Juan Wilfredo Soto left behind two children and their mom. He was a member of the Opposition Central Coalition and was known as "The Student." He was a former political prisoner who had served 12 years in prison. His mother, who suffers from a bad hip, buried her son on Mother's Day. Pictures of Juan Wilfredo Soto's family members were provided by Yoani Sanchez through twitter in 2011.

Ten years have passed and justice has not been done for Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia and his family. There have been new victims of police violence in Cuba since then, and impunity has only encouraged more abuse. 

Protesters picket the Embassy of Cuba in Washington DC on May 6, 2021

This was one of the reasons why on May 6th between 4pm and 6pm we held a protest outside of the Embassy of Cuba in Washington DC.

We observed the tenth anniversary of the beating death of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, and demanded justice for him, and others like him, while calling on Havana to free Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, meet his three demands, and free all of Cuba's political prisoners.

Protest at the Cuban Embassy on May 6, 2021

 We continue to remember and bear witness for the victims of Castroism, demand justice, and freedom.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Cuban dissident beaten to death by Castro's revolutionary police ten years ago while another is held hostage today

The hope of impunity is the greatest inducement to do wrong. - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Then: Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia and Now: Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

Revolutionary police and state security in Cuba operate with impunity, and victims of repression have no recourse to independent over sight or an independent judiciary in the island. This raises concerns now for the life of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. It is also the reason why people of conscience will be protesting at the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC on May 6, 2021 starting at 4:00pm.

Ten years ago the headlines circled the world in English and in Spanish covered by Reuters, the BBC, CNN, AP, EFE that a Cuban dissident and former political prisoner, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (age 46) had been beaten and arrested by Cuban regime police on Thursday, May 5, 2011 while protesting the dictatorship and died early on Sunday May 8, 2011. The beating had been so bad that he required hospitalization. He was buried Sunday, on Mother's Day.

There are others but the regime has been often successful in intimidating family members and destroying the evidence of their crimes. "This act of police violence is not an isolated case. Each day in Cuba those in uniform respect less the citizens," said Yoani Sanchez over Twitter on the day of Juan Wilfredo's burial in 2011. 

Hansel E. Hernández shot in the back by police on June 24, 2020

For example, nearly nine years later on June 24, 2020 in Guanabacoa, Cuba 27 year old unarmed black Cuban, Hansel E. Hernández was shot in the back and killed by the police. The official version claims that he was stealing pieces and accessories from a bus stop when he was spotted by two Revolutionary National Police (PNR in Spanish). Upon seeing the police Hansel ran away and the officers pursued him nearly two kilometers. PNR claimed that during the pursuit Hansel threw rocks at the officers. Police fired two warning shots and a third in his back killing him. Hansel's body was quickly cremated. This prevented an independent autopsy to verify official claims, or a proper funeral. State Security learned their lesson from an earlier funeral following a controversial death involving the police.

Hansel E. Hernández

According to dissidents who attended the 2011 funeral and media accounts more than 80 attended Juan Wilfredo Soto's funeral despite a heavy police presence and state security operation that blocked some activists from attending. The government agents responsible for this man's extra-judicial death must be held accountable if not by national laws then by international law.  At the funeral Cuban pastor  Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso spoke about the life of the Cuban activist and the circumstances surrounding his death.

Juan Wilfredo Soto left behind two children and their mom. He was a member of the Opposition Central Coalition and was known as "The Student." He was a former political prisoner who had served 12 years in prison. His mother, who suffers from a bad hip, buried her son on Mother's Day. Pictures of Juan Wilfredo Soto's family members provided by Yoani Sanchez through twitter.

Children of Juan Wilfredo Soto mourn their dad

Ten years have passed and justice has not been done in this case. There have been new victims of police violence in Cuba since then, like Hansel. Nevertheless we must remember, and with this exercise of memory continue to demand justice for Juan Wilfredo, Hansel, and their loved ones. We must also speak out for those who can still be saved such as Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

This is why Patmos, Center for a Free Cuba, and others are organizing a nonviolent protest at the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC located on 2630 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 on May 6, 2021 at 4:00pm to observe the tenth anniversary of the beating death of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, and demand justice for him, Hansel and others like them, while calling on the Cuban government to free Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and meet his three demands.


Monday, May 3, 2021

Press Freedom Day in Cuba, one of the ten worse countries in the world for journalists, in the midst of the Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara affair

"Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." - Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 10, 1948


Taken from CubaBrief

May 3rd, since December 1993 has been recognized by the international community as World Press Freedom Day.  It is observed on the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of press freedom principles drafted by African Journalists and passed on May 3, 1992 at a UNESCO seminar on "Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press," held in Windhoek, Namibia.

The theme for World Press Freedom Day 2021 is “Information as a Public Good.” This is a timely theme considering the challenges confronting the free press in the free world due to technological changes, and a new media environment.

CNN NEWS18 (formerly known as CNN IBN)is a partnership between TV18, one of India's leading television broadcast networks and CNN International, outlined the topics in the theme presented this year.

The three topics to be highlighted at this year’s World Press Freedom Day 2021 Global Conference, as per UNESCO are:

  • Steps to ensure the economic viability of news media;
  • Mechanisms for ensuring transparency of Internet companies;
  • Enhanced Media and Information Literacy (MIL) capacities that enable people to recognize and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good

Today, this CubaBrief will focus on press freedoms in Cuba, or better put their systematic absence.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released the 2021 edition of their World Press Freedom Index. revealing that Cuba in 2021 out of 180 countries remained 171st in press freedom, unchanged from that position in 2020 when the island nation edged out Saudi Arabia to become ninth of the 10 worst ranked countries in the index. Below is the 2021 entry by RSF on Cuba.

 Constant ordeal for independent media

Cuba has continued year after year to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator. Miguel Díaz-Canel’s election as president in April 2018, after 59 years of authoritarian socialist rule under Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl, has made no difference. The regime maintains an almost total monopoly of news and information and uses every means possible to obstruct independent media. Journalists who don’t toe the official line are subjected to arbitrary arrest, the threat of imprisonment, persecution and harassment, illegal home searches, and confiscation and destruction of journalistic material. Independent bloggers and journalists are watched by state security agents, who try to restrict their freedom of movement, and often take them in for questioning and delete information on their devices. The authorities also control the coverage by foreign reporters by granting accreditation selectively and expelling those regarded as too “negative” about the government. The gradual improvement in Internet access nonetheless constitutes one of the few grounds for hope for the future of press freedom in Cuba.

It is within this existing reality that the plight of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is a great challenge because independent media on the island is tightly muzzled, and subject to deportation, in terms of international media outlets, or prison for brave independent journalists that send their reports abroad, because mass media outlets on the island are a monopoly controlled by the Cuban Communist Party.

BBC News has provided a complete report on the events this past weekend, but fails to provide context to why Luis Manuel's allies fear for his safety. At 5:00am on Sunday, May 2nd state security agents forced their way into his home. Officials are giving contradictory statements to attempt to discredit the dissident. Activists and family members are demanding proof of life.

The Center for a Free Cuba issued a press release today providing historical context to the danger Luis Manuel faces at the Calixto Garcia hospital in Cuba.
“In the past, the Calixto García Hospital and other Cuban hospitals have been the scene of the death of other opponents under the control of the agents of the Ministry of the Interior, as was the case of the leader of the Ladies in White Laura Pollán Toledo in October 2011. The agents of the political police isolate the person, do not allow the entry of their relatives or friends, and the treatment they apply or the one they stop applying to lead them to death is unknown. There are numerous cases of unexplained deaths in hospitals on the Island under the custody of State Security. Another case was that of the blind opponent Sergio Díaz Larrastegui in April 2012,” explained Janisset Rivero, who for years has documented these cases and is a collaborator of the Center for a Free Cuba.
In both cases, that of Pollán and that of Díaz Larrastegui, whose homes were headquarters in Havana of important human rights organizations, their deaths meant the closure of the headquarters and a severe blow to the civic movement. 

Laura Pollán Toledo and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

“In the case of Otero Alcántara, his home is the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, an organization that in recent months has raised its voice in favor of freedom of expression on the Island, achieving numerous spontaneous and organized demonstrations in favor of their demands. The regime that has brought this activist to the brink of death cannot be trusted to now want to save him. We must demand that his family or friends can see him and verify his situation,” said John Suárez, Executive Director of the CFC.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Cuban Dissident Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on Day 8 of a hunger and thirst strike: Some context informed by past actions and nonviolence theory

"I think they kill my child every time they deprive a person of their right to think." - José Martí


Artist and human rights defender Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is on the eighth day of a hunger and thirst strike, and in increasingly poor health. He is engaged in a profound dialogue with a regime that for decades has refused to listen, to really listen, to Cuban citizens petitioning for and demanding change. This dialogue has been going on for at least three years. He has tried all types of protests, petitions, performance art pieces, and music videos in defense of freedom of expression, especially artistic expression.

In his third lecture in 2006 of his peace and conflict studies course "164A: Intro to Nonviolence" non-violence practitioner and academic at Berkeley University Michael Nagler explained that "it would not be appropriate for a person who had not tried in every way possible, first, to communicate with the person, then when they refused to listen to you, you move into various forms of civil disobedience. Or in other ways, you take on the suffering and the situation. And finally, when all that has failed – if all that has failed, then you move into something drastic like refusal to eat."

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara since 2018 has been engaged in a dialogue with the Cuban government demanding that artistic freedom in Cuba be respected and expanded.  The dialogue was initiated when the Cuban government announced Decree 349, a dystopian law that further restricted artistic freedoms in the already existing state of repression that existed. 

In an interview with Amnesty International in 2019, Luis Manuel said: “I’m like the tip of the iceberg. We are talking about an endless number of artists in Cuba. [The authorities] come after me, because as I am supposedly the most visible of the youth, activists-artists, they send the message ‘Well, if we lock this one up, look what we can do to you lot.’”

Cuban artists against Decree 349 | Photo © Facebook / Luis Manuel Otero

In March 2020, the World Movement for Democracy condemned the violent arrest and detention of artist and civil society activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara by Cuban authorities and joined organizations like PEN America and the San Isidro Movement in demanding his release. "He was arrested in Havana on March 1 as he was leaving his home to attend an independent anti-censorship demonstration organized by the local LGBTQ community. During the arrest a policewoman threw Otero Alcántara’s girlfriend, Claudia Genlui, to the floor and hit her for attempting to record the arrest on her cellphone," reported the World Movement.  Many feared that he would be subjected to a political show trial.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and his girlfriend Claudia Genlui

Amnesty International on March 13, 2020 identified Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara a prisoner of conscience, "imprisoned solely because of his consciously held beliefs, and should be released immediately."

Eight months later in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the San Isidro Movement were confronted with a new injustice. On November 9, 2020, their colleague Denis Solís González was arrested for recording and speaking critically of a police officer searching his home without a warrant. He was subjected to a summary trial on  November 11, 2020 and was sentenced to eight months in prison for “contempt” (desacato). Denis was taken to Valle Grande, a maximum-security prison just  outside Havana to serve out his prison sentence.

Denis Solís González jailed for protesting police harassment

 Luis Manuel, along with other artists and intellectuals began holding protests outside the police station, and were roughed up and their protests shut down. They moved the protests to the San Isidro Movement's headquarters, Luis Manuel's home and beginning on November 15, 2020 they were surrounded by police. They were protesting the travesty of justice carried out against Denis Solís González.

On November 18th when it became clear that officials would not allow anyone to deliver them food, and in the early morning hours of that day had used a chemical agent to poison their water supply that nine of them decided to go on hunger strike, and four of them took the additional step to also start a thirst strike. This was done to conserve food and water for those among them in a more vulnerable situation.

Luis Manuel was one of the four that initiated the hunger and thirst strike on November 18, 2020. Four days later around midnight, despite a cordon of state security and revolutionary national police surrounding the San Isidro Movement headquarters a Luis Manuel Alcantara was attacked with by an unidentified man who broke into the San Isidro Movement's headquarters on November 22, 2020. This was particularly suspicious because secret police had blocked neighbors, friends, and family members from reaching them for the previous four days.

Luis M. Alcantara attacked on November 22, 2020

On November 26 at 8:00pm regime officials shutoff their access to internet and to their phones and organized a rapid response brigade for an act of repudiation. Secret police dressed as doctors raided the San Isidro Movement headquarters and forcibly expelled and arrested everyone inside and beat them up.

Luis Manuel and the San Isidro Movement responded to each escalation of violence with a non-violent response that challenged the regime.  Restrictions on getting food, and regime contaminating the water supply with a chemical agent, the strongest started a hunger and thirst strike to conserve supplies for the weakest among them. 

State security raid San Isidro Movement in Havana on November 26th

Following an individual knocking down the door to the entrance with a hammer, they carried out their call for Cubans across the country to go to public parks and peacefully protest.  When they were dislodged and beaten on November 26th the following day hundreds of young people gathered outside of the Castro regime's Ministry of Culture and challenged the dictatorship. This led to the founding of the movement 27N, and a pledge by regime officials to dialogue in good faith that they immediately reneged on and began publicly demonizing protesters in the official media.

Hundreds of artists and intellectuals gather outside Ministry of Culture on Nov 27th

Level of surveillance and harassment against Luis Manuel and other members of the San Isidro Movement grew exponentially after the events of November 27, 2020. On December 15, 2020 Amnesty International released  a statement titled "Cuba: San Isidro movement and allies under frightening levels of surveillance," and raised the alarm of how they were being treated. “The disturbing level of restrictions to which activists and independent journalists are now being subjected is like something out of an Orwell novel set in Havana’s palm-lined streets. The police presence outside their homes, and constant threat of arrest, is so relentless that activists are essentially being imprisoned in their own homes,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

 In spite of the surveillance and harassment Maykel Osorbo, El Funky, and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara were able to collaborate on a song and video with other artists that would place the Castro regime on the defensive.

Artists from the San Isidro Movement in the music video Patria y Vida.

Cuban artists both in the diaspora and on the island: Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Osorbo, El Funky, and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, collaborated in the song and video Homeland and Life (Patria y Vida) that challenges the regime's propaganda narrative. On February 16, 2021 the video was premiered live with Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno on Youtube, and Maykel Osorbo briefly speaking live from Cuba before the secret police cut him off.

The Albert Einstein Institution, a center for research on nonviolence, would identify this as an "Act of commission", "that is, people may perform acts that they do not usually perform, are not expected by custom to perform, or are forbidden to perform." 

Above is the music video Patria y Vida (Homeland and Life) that is not only a non-violent creative act, but contains a message that rejects violence and death in favor of life, understanding and treating each other with humanity.

Luis Manuel  on the garrote demonstrating vulnerability of dissidents

Regime responded with escalating acts of random violence against San Isidro members. On April 16, 2021 over Facebook, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, one of the leaders of the San Isidro Movement announced a performance to dramatize the vulnerability of dissidents on the island. Luis Manuel explained the dramatic protest he was undertaking.

"From today I will be for 8 h daily for 5 days, sitting in a Garrote, days when I remain besieged by the DSE (State Security), I call on the authorities to turn this lathe and execute me publicly. Today Cuban activists and opponents live more vulnerable than ever, every day we are more exposed, and that vulnerability is coming from a dictatorship that is 62 years old. That 62-year-old dictatorship that copies the most repressive models of many dictatorships and security and repression organs like Russia, and those of the world.

This work is the result of a series of videos where we denounce the arbitrary way in which activists and opponents in Cuba are accused. From Law 88 that can sentence you to up to 20 years in jail, coming with the black spring, to the charge of contempt, a crime for which Denis Solis is now in prison, and Luis Robles is also in prison for expressing himself .. The law against insulting patriotic symbols is another one of those laws that criminalize free speech, crimes made up by State security. This performance is based on the garrote technique of killing activists or criminals in dictatorships like Franco's and in the Spanish Colonies. It is a wake-up call to what this dictatorship is capable of doing. Imagine if Luis Robles was handed down a six years prison sentence for expressing himself with a sign, what can happen to an activist who actually succeeds in having millions of followers for Cuban Freedom?"

The political police arrived that same day and took him away then returned to seize and steal or destroy his artwork located there at his home and studio. It was captured on video by a neighbor. 

"Following his release, [Luis Manuel] had planned to protest the repeated persecution he and other independent artists have faced in recent months at the parliament building in Havana, but officials blocked his movements, reportedly throwing him in jail every time he attempted to leave his apartment. Authorities have reportedly cut off his internet access, and police have surrounded his apartment, preventing anyone from entering. On Sunday [April 25, 2021], Otero Alcántara announced his hunger and thirst strike, intended as an act of protest against the seizure of his works and the ongoing persecution of artists," reported PEN America on April 26, 2021. They are arbitrarily detaining activists, like rapper and poet AfrikReina for trying to visit him at his home.

'This is not a performance or a work of art, it is demanding rights' in a protest that is life threatening to Luis Manuel. Havana Times on April 28, 2021 also outlined the circumstances that led to the hunger and thirst strike, and listed the demands of the San Isidro Movement for it to end.

1- Lift the police cordon on Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara in force since November 2020, and get rid of the state of siege as a practice to stop the free movement of artists, journalists and activists.

2- Return the art works that were stolen from Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and compensate him for any damages that they’ve incurred.

3- Respect for Cuban artists and them exercising their freedoms fully.

He and the San Isidro Movement have demonstrated that they know what they are doing with great courage and creativity.

Non-violence educator Michael Nagler in the second lecture of his 2006 course for Peace and Conflict Studies 164A: Intro to Nonviolence offered a great analysis of fasts and hunger strikes beginning at 46 minutes 38 seconds, and is highly recommended for a deeper understanding of  this radical and dangerous type of protest. In the video Nagler offers a word of caution: "Nonviolence is not a feel good operation its very scientific you have to know when to do what."

Nagler's Five rules for Fasting: Persuasion vs. Coercion 

  1. Have to be the right person for the job. Not to be used by just anybody.
  2. Right audience. (You should only fast against someone who cares about your well being.)
  3. Doable demand
  4. Last Resort
  5. Consistent with the rest of your life

In the third lecture of his peace and conflict studies course "164A: Intro to Nonviolence" Nagler describes fasting unto the death within nonviolence:

What you’re saying to a person - remember, we’re trying to make two distinctions here when we talk about fasting within satyagraha. One, it’s not a case of suicide. You’re not killing yourself, you are risking death. And what you’re doing is actually putting your life in the other person’s hands. 

So in a way, it’s an act of extreme intimacy. It’s an act of love, in the non-modern sense of the word. You’re actually putting your life in that person’s hands. You are not killing yourself, but you’re saying to the person, “Your behavior is so unacceptable that if you continue it, it’s going to kill me.” So this is simply an extreme case of taking on the suffering that’s in the situation. We’re going to get back to that principle at some point. I’m sure it will come up very soon. The other distinction we need to make is this is different from a threat because what you’re saying to the person is, “I am going to exhibit to you, I’m going to mirror back to you the ultimate consequences of what you’re doing.” 

So you’re not saying, “If you don’t do what I want, I’m going to die and then you’ll be sorry.” It’s not quite like that. It’s like this is an act of truth. You’re killing us. You’re killing us. You’re killing our people and I’m going to show you that you’re doing to wake up your conscious. And once you realize what you’re doing, you’ll make your choice whether to continue doing it or not. So that’s why you have to be carrying on this conversation. And incidentally, nonviolent actions can be thought of as conversation on a nonverbal level with someone who’s not listening to you verbally anymore.

There are no guarantees in nonviolent resistance, as there are not in violent resistance, but in studying the terrain and observing the strategy and tactics carried out one can gain an idea of what the likelihood is of success. 

There is a danger in a hunger strike of a yogic death. This is when the protester has been engaging in meditation and withdrawing consciousness from the body that eventually leads to a loss of the fear of death. These actions are not for the timid, but for the brave, especially when confronting the dictatorship in Cuba. They are extreme, but the situation on the island is extreme and literally a "do or die" situation.

Michael N. Nagler's book, "The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action" has a passage that should be a familiar description to pro-democracy activists with regards to the struggles now taking place in Cuba:

"Conflicts escalate when they are not resolved, and if they are left untended they can rapidly get out of control." From the nonviolence point of view, the intensity of a conflict is not necessarily a question of how many guns or how many people are involved (the same metric would work for a quarrel between lovers as between nations); it is primarily about how far dehumanization has proceeded. If someone no longer listens to you, is calling you names or is labeling you, it’s probably too late for petitions. In terms of knowing how to respond, we can conveniently think of this escalation in three stages that call for distinct sets of responses. Let’s call these three stages Conflict Resolution, Satyagraha (active nonviolent resistance), and—hopefully this is rare, but it helps to know it exists—Ultimate Sacrifice (see Figure)."
In Cuba the regime in power call opponents: worms, mercenaries, and fascists. The Cuban government does not only not recognize the opposition, but it is also illegal under the constitution along with independent media, human rights organizations, and civil society in practice. It is a totalitarian dictatorship with few non-formal spaces for dissent.