Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Spain's FM in Cuba as hunger-striker nears death

By Rigoberto Diaz
HAVANA (Agence France Press)

July 5, 2010 — Spain's top diplomat rushed to Havana in a bid to save the life of a hunger-striker who is defying the communist government and demanding that sick political prisoners be freed. In Madrid, Spain's leading daily El Pais said Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who arrived in Cuba late Monday, believes the communist government will gradually begin releasing all political prisoners, starting with 26 who are in poor health, as a result of his visit. Releasing the sick, jailed dissidents would meet the top demand of seriously ill hunger-striking Cuban activist Guillermo Farinas, a psychologist and online journalist who has put his life on the line in a high-stakes clash with the Americas' only one-party Communist regime. In unprecedented coverage of a dissident's protest, the Communist Party daily Granma reported Saturday Farinas could soon die -- without mentioning his hunger strike seeking freedom for jailed dissidents has left him near death. Farinas, 48, hit back against Cuban government authoritarianism and repression in a statement released on an opposition blog Monday, complaining sarcastically: "they forgot to explain why it is I am on a hunger strike." In any case, "the only people who will be responsible for my death are brothers (former president) Fidel and (President) Raul Castro," Farinas said. "I want to die in my country right under the noses of the dictators who have the guns, rifles, cannons and bombs. I have the moral weight of the people from below, who have been deceived and repressed for 51 years by those who have the weapons, the violence and totalitarian laws they use to govern poorly from above," Farinas added. Moratinos is to hold talks with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, and the archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega. But a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro "is not yet confirmed," the Spanish foreign ministry has said. The visit comes after Havana said at the weekend that dissident Farinas is close to death after 132 days on a hunger strike.

While Moratinos is not scheduled to meet with Farinas, the Spanish diplomat told a news conference Monday that his delegation would be in touch with the dissident's entourage "and will express our conviction that the best thing for everyone would be for him to end this hunger strike. "We think that (Farinas) should already feel satisfied with his aims and that he should work, as we are all doing, to improve human rights in Cuba," he said. "I obviously have other objectives on this visit to Cuba which make it worthwhile and can lead to results and help all the citizens of Cuba," he said. Farinas stopped taking food the day after leading dissident Orlando Zapata died on February 23 as the result of an 85-day hunger strike. The international outcry over both hunger strikes and pressures from the Catholic Church led the Castro regime last month to free a paraplegic dissident and transfer 12 other prisoners to jails closer to their homes. The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN) -- an outlawed but tolerated group -- estimates there are 167 political prisoners in the Caribbean nation of more than 11 million people. The group's leader, Elizardo Sanchez, said "there is a high likelihood" Havana will set free 30-40 political prisoners in coming "days or weeks." "There are a lot of signs inside the prisons, They are getting medical checkups and being asked in prison if they want to leave the country," Sanchez said. Spanish media have reported France and Italy would take released prisoners, but officials believe most would depart for the United States. Chile also has said it would take in some of those freed. Cuban authorities consider the dissidents a threat to national security, and claim the prisoners are "mercenaries" on Washington's pay, out to smear the Cuban government.

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