Peaceful protest

‘Solidarity helps us maintain physical health,’ Brazilian hunger strikers say

Activists receive visitors every day since Jul. 31; doctor says support is crucial as protest takes toll on their bodies

Brasília |
Activists take part in political rally in Brasília, surrounded by supporters
Activists take part in political rally in Brasília, surrounded by supporters - Adi Spezia/ MPA

Six Brazilian hunger strikers who have been fasting since Jul. 31 and one activist who joined the protest a week later are now showing severe signs of physical weakness. The hunger strikers, who demand freedom for ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, are focusing their demand on the Supreme Court, so that chief justice Cármen Lúcia place on the docket three petitions – called ADCs – that question the imprisonment of defendants while their cases are still appealable. This is the case, for example, of the former Brazilian president, who has been in prison since Apr. 7.

The medical team that is taking care of the group said that, at this stage of the protest, the body’s response to food deprivation becomes stronger, leading to physiological changes, attention deficit, and significant weight loss. As a result, physical and mental fatigue becomes more severe.

But that doesn’t stop the group from hanging in there, as food is not lacking where solidarity abounds. Individuals, groups, and institutions visit the activists and express their support every day, making the protesters feel excited to keep fighting.

Hunger striker Vilmar Pacífico, from the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), said that every new visitor makes him feel invigorated.

“This is all a chain, it’s so important. Visits mean everything to us. I say they are a staple, very powerful food,” he said.

A veteran of people’s struggle, hunger striker Luiz Gonzaga “Gegê” da Silva, a member of the People’s Movements Center (CMP), has been a political activist since his teenage years. He believes solidarity is fundamental to help them deal with everything involving class struggle, including staging a hunger strike.

Gegê said he feels grateful for the visits and love he has been receiving from activists, groups, institutions, artists, and political personalities.

“I’ve learned since I was 14 years old that, if we don’t have class solidarity, there is no reason to live. This word has always been very powerful for my survival through difficult times,” he said.

Doctor Ronald Wollf, one of the health professionals seeing the hunger strikers on a daily basis, explains that physical weakness strongly impacts the activists’ emotional state, increasing, for example, their irritability.

For this reason, the doctor says, positive feelings – such as solidarity and fraternity – operate as the engine of life, helping them balance their energy and consequently maintain their bodies.

“Emotions and moods are food for affection, for the soul, and they have a huge impact on the matter, the body. Several studies show that,” he explains.

Wollf said that the hunger strikers feel better overall on the days they receive more visitors. “They play more, ask us to tell jokes, or even tell us jokes,” the doctor says.

The seven activists receive daily visits at the Brasília Culture Center, where they are accommodated.

Edited by: Diego Sartorato