After 134 days without solid food, or even a sip of liquid, Guillermo Farinas lifted a red plastic cup to his lips and drank a little water. It was 2:15 in the afternoon on Thursday, July 8, and from the other side of the glass in the intensive care ward where he was being treated, dozens of friends watching him burst into applause as if they had been witnesses to a miracle.
In the morning hours of the same day, the newspaper Granma, official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, had announced on page two that all the political prisoners incarcerated during the Black Spring of 2003 would be released as a result -- the notice said -- of a joint effort led by the Catholic Church and the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos.
Without diminishing one iota the merit of the mediation mission of the bishops and ambassadors, the release of the political prisoners would not have happened without the death -- on hunger strike -- of the prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February of this year, without the years of peaceful protest carried out with heroic resistance by the Ladies in White, and without the hunger and thirst strike declared by the psychologist and independent journalist Guillermo Farinas.
Minutes before taking his first drink of water, Farinas wrote out, in his own hand, a statement announcing the temporary suspension of his strike, a suspension that will become final if the government fulfills its announced promise of freeing the prisoners within a span of three or four months. In the narrow corridor on the other side of the glass, tormented by the heat expelled by an air conditioner, leaders of various opposition groups, the Ladies in White, independent journalists, bloggers and friends, coming from around the country, read aloud, photographed and dictated into their cell phones the text of the statement. The paper was held against the window from inside by room by another political prisoner, currently paroled, Hector Palacios, who accompanied Farinas in these momentous moments.
Farinas had won one battle, but still remains in a fierce war against death, because the land that has seen the action of this singular belligerency is his own body -- ultimately the only space available to him to carry out this campaign. His intestines are now like fragile paper conduits distilling bacteria through their pores, his jugular vein is partially obstructed by a blood clot which, if it detached, could lodge in the heart, brain or lungs; or more precisely, in his heart, his brain or his lungs. He has suffered four staph infections and at night a sharp pain in his groin barely allows him to sleep.
His shriveled esophagus was not ready for that first sip of water. It created such a pain in his chest that for a minute he thought he was having a heart attack, but he endured it in silence. On the other side of the glass, expectantly watching, were those who for days had been keeping a vigil outside the hospital, praying for his life, and others who had come from very far away to ask him to end his martyrdom and to be a witness to his victory. Not wanting to dampen the celebration of his jubilant colleagues applauding the triumph of his cause, he managed to turn a grimace into a smile.
Farina's family allowed me to watch over him on this, the first night after the end of his hunger strike, and he allowed me to be a witness to his suffering, his occasional crankiness, and his human weaknesses. Only then did I discover the true hero of this day.