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Tags: Cuba | striker | blackmail | hunger

Cuba Vows No 'Blackmail' by Hunger Striker

Monday, 08 March 2010 11:31 PM EST

HAVANA — Cuba assailed the 12-day hunger strike of a dissident journalist as "blackmail" on Monday as it rejected his demand to free 26 political prisoners needing medical care.

But Guillermo Farinas, 48, vowed to press ahead "to the end" with his protest fast, which he began the day after political prisoner Orlando Zapata died on the 85th day of his own hunger strike.

"I say to them: either they free the 26 political prisoners who are the sickest, or nothing. I am going to stick to my position to the end," Farinas told AFP by telephone.

"They say it is unacceptable blackmail, I say it is a gesture of goodwill."

The Communist Party newspaper Granma, the mouthpiece of the Cuban leadership, weighed in for the first time on Farinas's refusal to take food or water, accusing him of being an agent of US and European interests.

"Cuba, which has demonstrated many times its respect for human life and dignity, will not accept pressure or blackmail," the newspaper said.

Farinas fainted and was taken to hospital on Wednesday, two days after two government doctors and a nurse found him to be very dehydrated during a medical visit.

But the dissident has refused treatment, saying he is ready to die for his cause.

After Zapata's death, international human rights groups called on Cuba to release all political prisoners.

But Granma said: "In this case, it is not medicine that must resolve a problem created with the intent to discredit our political system but the patient himself and the stateless people, foreign diplomats and the media who manipulate him.

"The consequences will be his responsibility, and his alone."

It said Farinas had been weakened by successive hunger strikes.

Farinas said the Granma article was an attempt to discredit him by claiming that "the one who is going to die is not a pro-democracy revolutionary but a revolutionary who has been tricked and changed under the direction of a foreign power."

Meanwhile, 43 Cuban political prisoners released a statement saying they were "profoundly touched" by Farinas' sacrifice.

"If the regime lets him die, it will show its complete contempt for justice and respect for human rights," they said.

Dissident economist Oscar Espinoza said Granma's response to the hunger strike was "irresponsible."

The head of the outlawed Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, Elizardo Sanchez, said: "It leaves the impression that the government dreams of letting Farinas die, just as it did with Zapata."

If Farinas does die, "it would complicate our relations with Cuba," a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

The European Union restored relations with the communist island in 2008 after a five-year break prompted by a wave of arrests of opposition activists, but the relationship has been a difficult one.

Meanwhile, Cuba's perennially adversarial relations with the United States, which has imposed a trade embargo on the island for 48 years, appeared to ease last year with President Barack Obama's arrival in the White House.

But tensions resurfaced in December with the arrest of an American contractor accused of trying to overthrow the regime by supplying communications equipment to the opposition.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved

© Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, 08 March 2010 11:31 PM
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