A Cuban dissident who has won numerous awards for his longtime efforts – including 23 hunger strikes, some of them near-fatal – to bring democratic changes to his homeland is expected to receive the 2015 Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom on Friday.
Guillermo Fariñas will join the ranks of past recipients such as Pope John Paul II and William F. Buckley, Jr.
Fariñas, who counts among his awards the European Union’s 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, said in a telephone interview from his home in Havana that each honor is important to him because it sparks a renewed urgency to fight for human rights.
“Every distinction is a reflection of support, a new source of pressure to keep pushing for liberty,” he told Fox News Latino. “It’s another source of motivation for me.”
The award is given by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a U.S-based non-profit educational organization that was established by Congress.
Besides Farinas, who will receive the award at a ceremony in Washington D.C., a Medal of Freedom also will be given to Russian journalist Alexandr Podrabinek, according to a press release by the foundation.
“It is our honor and privilege to present this award to Guillermo Fariñas Hernández and Alexandr Podrabinek,” said Marion Smith, Executive Director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, in a statement.
“These two men come from different places, but share a tireless devotion to ensuring that future generations will live in a world free from the horrors of communism," Smith said. "With this award, we honor their courage and their continued commitment to the fight for basic human rights.”
Fariñas has served a total of 11 years in Cuban jails as a political prisoner. He staged hunger strikes while in jail, sometimes imperiling his health.
Podrabinek also was arrested in the former Soviet Union for his political dissidence, and was exiled to Siberia at one point for five years. Today he continues to fight oppression by the government of Vladimir Putin.
Fariñas said that little has changed in Cuba under President Raul Castro, who, with President Barack Obama, is working on restoring diplomatic relations between the longtime adversaries.
“They still try to quash political opposition,” he said. “The change is only really economic, not political. Cuba has lost Venezuela as a lifeline, so in desperation it has turned to the United States, which until now was its sworn enemy.”