Real Life Action Hero: Guillermo "El Coco" Farinas

Oct 22, 2010· 1 MIN READ
Following the lead of Wilt Chamberlain, Adam vacated his native Philadelphia for Los Angeles following decades of acclaim and short shorts. He firmly believes that, when it comes to the opportunity for change, we’re on the goal line with bases loaded and no fouls to give. He also finds inspiration in mixed sports metaphors.

Guillermo “El Coco” Farinas is afraid of one thing.

Despite being a real-life superhero, El Coco remains close to his humble Cuban home. (Photo:Desmond Boylan/REUTERS)

It’s not war; he fought one in Angola and was decorated for bravery.

It’s not the Cuban government; Farinas made his name speaking out against the communists in power, with 11 years in prison to prove it.

It’s not a slow, excruciating death, which he’s encountered time and time again in no less than 23 hunger strikes.

The one thing that scares El Coco is defeat.

"The only fear I have is of failing the Cuban people and the campaign for democracy in Cuba,” he says.

With his long record in the ring of political dissent, it’s probably easier to list the battles that backed El Coco down than the wars he’s waged.

At last count, that number remains zero.

From the trenches of Angola’s civil war to the confines of Cuban jails to hospital wards where intravenous machines forced life into the career hunger striker, Farinas has been left frail, wounded and scarred. His gallbladder's gone, and anticoagulants keep his blood from clotting; chalk it up to a life in protest.

But at 48, El Coco's nothing if not determined. His last hunger strike, inspired by the death of fellow dissident Orlando Zapata, lasted 134 days and ended in the release of 52 political prisoners in Cuba.

Today, Farinas added Europe's 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to his resume of humanitarian awards.

More than 6 billion people crowd the planet, all born to stay busy doing one thing or another until time runs out. Only a fraction make it their life’s work to help those starved of food, water, and human rights. They, like Farinas, are true action heroes.

For the remaining percentage lucky enough to trade 40 hours a week for a little joie de vivre and a foothold in the middle class, fear not. It’s easy to don a cape and become a Wonder Woman or Man of Steel in your own right.

Unfortunately, it’s easier still to stay a supervillain: just do nothing.

Farinas lives in Santa Clara, the central Cuban city of his birth.