This year VOC awards its Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom to two outstanding advocates of liberty. Guillermo Fariñas and Alexander Podrabinek come from different sides of the globe but are committed to the same truth—namely, that they and their countrymen deserve from their governments an honest reckoning with the crimes of the past and a true path forward to a more democratic and just future.
One of those two awardees is Guillermo Fariñas, a Cuban psychologist, journalist and political dissident. Growing up in communist Cuba, Fariñas is the son of a military man who fought under Che Guevara. From an early age, Fariñas was a member of a Communist Youth organization and a supporter of the Cuban Revolution. It was not until the 1980s that Fariñas began to become aware of the many and varied human rights abuses of the Castro regime. After being punished for exposing widespread corruption in his healthcare workers union, he gradually but surely began to align with the opposition. Fariñas faced more and more government scrutiny as he distanced himself from the regime, eventually facing numerous spurious criminal charges and spending close to 11 years in prison.
Now one of the Cuban government’s harshest critics, Fariñas has launched more than 23 hunger strikes in protest of the abusive and repressive political system in his home country. During a 2003 crackdown on journalists and dissidents by the Cuban government known as the “Black Spring,” Fariñas’ hunger strike helped lead to the release of a large number of the 75 civil society leaders that had been arrested and jailed. One 2010 hunger strike lasted so long that Fariñas was imprisoned and force-fed by an intravenous drip.
His hunger strikes have centered on different particular issues—internet censorship, the deaths of fellow dissidents, police brutality, and more. But his willingness to die for the cause of freedom in Cuba has solidified his role as one of the foremost champions of liberty in that still-communist country. His commitment to nonviolence is also a dramatic witness to the power of principle in the face of government oppression; peaceful protests behind the Iron Curtain—like the 1989 “Baltic Way”—helped provide much-needed evidence of the inveterate desire of people living under communism for reform and regime change. Fariñas gives voice to this same desire in Cuba.
In 2010, Fariñas was awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament, but was unable to collect his prize until 2013 because the Cuban government denied his exit visa to go to Strasbourg.
Fariñas has been critical of the recent American policy of re-opening diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba, arguing that reconciliation without reform will not lead to a freer Cuba. “I feel betrayed,” Fariñas said to a gathering of Cuban dissidents in December of last year when news of the thaw was first made public. For his part, Fariñas will continue to draw attention to the morally and politically bankrupt Castro government until real, structural change comes to the island nation.
In accepting the 2015 Truman-Reagan Award, Mr. Fariñas drew attention to the victims of communism in Cuba: “I consider this recognition not a personal one but an award to all Cuban citizens that have suffered the Castro dictatorship for the past 56 years. Thank you for not forgetting the thousands of Cubans that have been executed, jailed, tortured and drowned in the ocean trying to escape communism,” Fariñas said in a statement.
Guillermo Fariñas will receive his Truman-Reagan Award during commemorative events on June 11th and 12th, to be held in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit our website.