Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas is making headlines around the world with his 6-week-old hunger strike to denounce Cuba's dictatorship. But what struck me the most in an interview from his hospital bed was the modesty of his demands, and the pragmatism of his expectations.
Farinas, a 48-year-old psychologist and independent journalist whose father fought beside Che Guevara, and who himself fought in Angola as a Cuban soldier, says he does not believe there will be any changes in Cuba while Fidel Castro and his brother Raul are alive.
The changes will start when the next generation of Castro family members — Fidel and Raul's sons — take over, he says.
And Farinas' conditions to lift his hunger strike — which he is now conducting from a hospital in Santa Clara, where he is being fed intravenously — do not include that Cuban dictator Gen. Raul Castro step down, nor that he call elections, not even that he release the more than 200 political prisoners who are in jail for voicing their opinions, he said.
"My demands are minimal: that they release 26 prisoners of conscience who are dying in Cuban jails, and who the regime's own military doctors are saying need urgent attention," Farinas told me. "None of them will endanger the stability of the Cuban government, because they are so ill that they will have to focus on their health rather than doing politics."
What do you say about Raul Castro's claims that Orlando Zapata -- who died Feb. 23 after an 83-day hunger strike -- and you are "common criminals" and "mercenaries" of the United States and Europe, I asked.
"For Fidel and Raúl Castro's government, there is not one single legitimate oppositionist. In their mind-set, any person who opposes Fidel and Raúl Castro is a common criminal," he said.
As for the "mercenaries" charge, Fariñas said it's a typical manipulation of the Castro regime, to divert attention from the internal struggle within Cuba between the regime and peaceful oppositionists, and make it look as if it were a conflict between Cuba and foreign powers. "This is a conflict among Cubans," he said.
Do you expect any changes in Cuba, I asked.
"As long as the current generation of Castros are around, there won't be changes of any kind," he said.
"That's because the current generation have their hands soaked in blood. Remember that to take power through a revolution that supposedly was meant to restore democracy, they shed a lot of blood. They can't make any changes because they know they would be held accountable by all of those who they betrayed."
According to Fariñas, what's more likely to happen -- and what he said he hopes will happen -- is a process of change that will begin once Raúl and Fidel Castro die, and their respective sons take their places.
"This is a family dynasty. They are preparing [Raúl's son] Col. Alejandro Castro Espín and [Fidel's son] Dr. Antonio Castro Soto del Valle to take power," Fariñas said. "None of them has their hands soaked in blood. Therefore, they could start trying to make changes."
He said that both are regularly seen next to Raúl in official functions, "whispering to his ears." He added that "ministers no longer meet with Raúl. They meet with Alejandro, or with Antonio. They are a sort of chiefs of staff at this moment."
The next Communist Party Congress is likely to promote them to top positions, and Alejandro -- who is already a colonel -- could be made a general anytime by a simple signature of his father, he said.
My opinion: The strength of Fariñas' case -- and that of the Damas de Blanco, the "Ladies in White" who march in Havana regularly to demand the release of their relatives -- does not rely on his high ideals, but on the modesty of his demands.
They are revealing the Castro regime for what it is: a military dictatorship that is so unsure about its legitimacy that it can't even allow a few dying prisoners of conscience go home.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Andres Oppenheimer is a Miami Herald syndicated columnist and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. He also won the 1999 Maria Moors Cabot Award, the 2001 King of Spain prize, and the 2005 Emmy Suncoast award. He is the author of Castro's Final Hour; Bordering on Chaos, on Mexico's crisis; Cronicas de heroes y bandidos, Ojos vendados, Cuentos Chinos and most recently of Saving the Americas. E-mail Andres at aoppenheimer @ herald.com Live chat with Oppenheimer every Thursday at 1 p.m. at The Miami Herald.