Saturday, February 27, 2010

4 Cuban inmates, 1 activist declare hunger strikes

Posted on Thursday, 02.25.10
4 Cuban inmates, 1 activist declare hunger strikes
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Four Cuban inmates considered political prisoners and an
opposition activist who is not behind bars vowed Friday to stop eating
in protest after another jailed dissident died this week following his
own lengthy hunger strike.

Such strikes have long been used by the island's tiny dissident
community to try to pressure the communist government to free inmates
held for their political beliefs. But they rarely draw much attention
outside the Cuban-American exile community in South Florida because
those involved often continue to drink water and juice and eat soups and
other nutrients that keep them alive.

The death Tuesday of an imprisoned construction worker and government
critic named Orlando Zapata Tamayo after he refused solid food for weeks
has energized the opposition community, however, and many of its members
claim hunger strikes are one of the few ways they can get noticed.

To honor Zapata Tamayo, prisoners Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero, Eduardo
Diaz Freitas, Fidel Suarez Cruz and Nelson Molinet, held in
high-security Kilo Cinco y Medio prison in the western province of Pinar
del Rio, are refusing solid food, according the independent Cuban
Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Prison authorities, and the government, had no comment.

All four were captured in a crackdown on dissent in March 2003, when
authorities jailed 75 leading activists for allegedly taking money from
Washington to destabilize Cuba's government - charges that dissidents
call dubious. The human rights commission says Cuba holds about 200
political prisoners, though that list includes some inmates imprisoned
for violent acts.

Despite limits on freedom of expression, assembly and the press, Cuba's
government claims it holds no political prisoners and respects the
rights of its citizens more than most countries by providing free
education and health care, as well as subsidized housing, utilities,
transportation and even food on the monthly ration book. It says all
dissidents are paid agents of the U.S. government.

Also on a new hunger strike is Guillermo Farinas, an activist-journalist
in the central province of Las Villas who reports independently on Cuba
in defiance of state controls on the media.

Farinas has now held no fewer than 24 hunger strikes since 1997, but
this time said he has stopped ingesting food and water as of late
Wednesday. He said he is doing so to honor Zapata Tamayo and to press
for the release of 33 political prisoners who are in poor health.

"They let Zapata Tamayo die," Farinas said by phone from his home in the
city of Santa Clara, adding that he already was experiencing headaches
and foot pain from a lack of food.

Zapata Tamayo was jailed in 2003 for disrespecting authority but had his
sentence extended to 25-years for political activism behind bars. His
death drew condemnation from the U.S., Europe and others, while leaders
in Latin America, many of them sympathetic to Cuba, have largely been

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, a frequent visitor to Cuba, was one
of the few to weigh in. He called Zapata Tamayo's death "very painful,"
but also decried Washington's 48-year-old trade embargo against the island.

"In Cuba, a lot of things have to change," he said late Thursday, "but
the principal impediment to those changes is the criminal U.S. blockade."

Cuban President Raul Castro took the unprecedented step of expressing
public regret for Zapata Tamayo's death - though he adamantly denied the
prisoner was mistreated and said the only torture taking place on the
island is at the U.S. military prison for terror detainees at Guantanamo

Also Friday, Amnesty International added a 55th name to the list of
people it considers prisoners of conscience in Cuba and demanded that
Raul Castro's government release him.

Darsi Ferrer, a Havana physician and human rights activist, was arrested
in July and accused of illegally obtaining black-market building
materials to repair his home.

Opposition leaders say officials selectively prosecuted Ferrer for a
crime that is often overlooked - and quite common in a country where the
state controls nearly all construction and such materials are hard to
come by legally.

4 Cuban inmates, 1 activist declare hunger strikes - Americas AP - (26 February 2010)

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