US protesters fast at Gitmo

A group of 25 US Catholic peace protesters held a three-day fast starting on Dec. 12 near the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to protest the situation of 500 male Muslim detainees held there for three years as "enemy combatants." The group began the 66-mile walk from Santiago de Cuba to Guantanamo on Dec. 7 and arrived near the base Dec. 11.

Using a cellular phone, the protesters attempted to ask base authorities, the US Southern Command and the White House for permission to visit the detainees, but the US authorities never replied. The Cuban government allowed the protesters to set up a camp five miles from the base, outside a security zone the Cuban military has established. The group then started their liquids-only fast in solidarity with the detainees. According to US authorities, some 200 detainees have held hunger strikes over the past months to protest their confinement and conditions at the camp; 22 are currently receiving internal nutrition through nasal tubes because of their refusal to eat, US officials say.

The protesters are from the Catholic Worker movement. Five protesters from Ithaca, NY, said they hadn't received permission from the US government to visit Cuba and could face a $7,500 fine or 10 years in jail. "We were in violation of the embargo on Cuba," Grace Ritter told a reporter. "But we felt so strongly about this torture happening [at the base] that we had to do something." Three of the Ithaca protesters—Clare Grady, her sister Teresa Grady and Dana Brown—are part of the "St. Patrick's Four," a group of activists who recently received misdemeanor convictions for spilling their blood in a Lansing, NY, military recruitment center during a 2004 protest against the Iraq War. They are to be sentenced in late January and could receive up to one year in jail for the 2004 protest. (Reuters, Dec. 13; Ithaca Times, Dec. 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 25

See our last posts on detainment and torture at US military facilities.

See also our last post on Cuba.