The light is dim, the room narrow, the murmur of Santo Suarez seeps through the walls. On the bed is a bone-thin woman with freezing hands and a barely audible voice. Martha Beatriz Roque declared a hunger strike a week ago. I’ve come to her wrapped in the busyness of daily life and in the rush of information; but her face wears the calmness of time and experience. She is there, as fragile as a little girl of such weightlessness that I could lift her up and lull her to sleep in my lap. I’m surprised by her clarity, the categorical manner in which she explains to me her refusal to eat. Every word she manages to pronounce — with such intensity — doesn’t seem to come from a body so diminished by fasting.
I thought I would never again be at the bedside of a hunger striker. The false optimism that all future time had to be better had led me to believe that Guillermo Fariñas with his prominent ribs and dry mouth would be the last dissident who would turn to starvation as a weapon of citizen demands. But two years after those 134 days without eating, I am again seeing the sunken stomachs and sallow coloring of those who refuse to eat. This time there are now 28 people throughout the country and their motive is, once again, the helplessness of the individual before a legality too marked by ideology. Because of the absence of other ways to challenge the government, the intestines empty themselves as a method of demand and rebellion. Sadly, all they have left us is our own skin and bones, and the walls of our stomachs, to make ourselves heard.
Before leaving Martha Beatriz’s house I counseled her, “You have to survive, this type of regime you have to outlive them.” And I went into the street, wrapped in the guilt and responsibility that every Cuban should feel before such a sad event. “Survive, survive,” I kept thinking, when talking with the family of Jorge Vázquez who should have been freed on September 9 and whose immediate release is the demand of those fasting. “Survive, survive,” I told myself, seeing on TV the faces of those who have turned disagreement into a crime in this country, and civil protest treason. “Survive, survive, we will survive them,” I promised myself. But perhaps it is already too late for that.
Photo: El Nuevo Herald.