This year marks the 30th anniversary of the hunger strikes by Irish republican prisoners n the British-run Long Kesh concentration camp — an event that shook the world.
The British government of Margaret Thatcher let ten men starve themselves to death rather than negotiate with them over their demand to be recognised as political prisoners. The first prisoner to begin the hunger strike was 27-year old Bobby Sands. He died on May 5, 1981 after 66 days of starvation.
On September 15, 1981, then-Cuban president Fidel Castro gave the opening speech to the 68th conference of the Interparliamentary Union in Havana. He hailed the courage and dedication of the hunger strikers. The speech is reprinted below.
* * *
In speaking of international politics, we cannot ignore what is happening in Northern Ireland. I feel it is my duty to refer to this problem. In my opinion, Irish patriots are writing one of the most heroic chapters in human history.
They have earned the respect and admiration of the world, and likewise they deserve its support. Ten of them have already died in the most moving gesture of sacrifice, selflessness and courage one could ever imagine.
Humanity should feel ashamed that this terrible crime is being committed before its very eyes. These young fighters do not ask for independence or make impossible demands to put an end to their strike.
They ask only for something as simple as the recognition of what they actually are: political prisoners…
The stubbornness, intransigence, cruelty and insensitivity of the British Government before the international community concerning the problem of the Irish patriots and their hunger strike until death remind us of Torquemada and the atrocities committed by the Inquisition during the apogee of the Middle Ages…
Let tyrants tremble before men who are capable of dying for their ideals, after 60 days on hunger strike!
It is high time for the world community to put an end to this repulsive atrocity through denunciation and pressure.