BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas Thursday ended a 135-day hunger strike that had put him close to death, and the island's Catholic church identified the first five political prisoners to be freed. Fariñas a 48-year old psychiatrist and independent journalist, has refused to eat and drink since Feb. 24, but has received nourishment intravenously in a Santa Clara hospital since March 11. He took his first glass of water around 2 p.m. Thursday, according to bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Claudia Cadelo, who were with Fariñas when he announced that he was ending his hunger strike after the government agreed to free 52 political prisoners. A church statement Thursday identified the first five political prisoners to be released as Antonio Villarreal Acosta, Lester González Pentón, Luis Milán Fernández, José Luis García Paneque and Pablo Pacheco. Pacheco's wife, Oleivys García, told El Nuevo Herald she was surprised when she visited him in a Ciego de Avila prison Thursday and learned Ortega had just called Pacheco to let him know he would be freed.``We were surprised '' Garcia said via telephone from Cuba. Her husband ``told me he thanked Ortega, who was very courteous, and told him that he was glad to be one of the first released, but hoped he would not be one of the last.'' Pacheco, an independent journalist who has been writing a blog from jail, Voz Tras las Rejas, -- Voice from Behind The Bars -- with the help of Cadelo, has been serving a 20-year sentence. Fariñas launched the strike one day after the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata following an 83-day hunger strike, to demand the release of 26 other political prisoners reported to be in ill health. Sanchez and Cadelo were among about 30 activists who traveled to Santa Clara Thursday to persuade Fariñas to abandon his strike after Cuba agreed Wednesday to release the 52 political prisoners over the next four months. The 52 are the last dissidents still in jail from the 2003 crackdown on 75 opposition activists known as Cuba's Black Spring. The others were released for health reasons.