Monday, March 29, 2010

Cuban hunger striker rejects Spanish offer

Cuban hunger striker rejects Spanish offer
By Esteban Israel
Monday, March 29, 2010; 2:49 PM

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban hunger striker Guillermo Farinas on Monday
rejected the Spanish government's latest offer to take him to Spain to
head off another dissident death that could worsen Cuba's relations with
the international community.

Some of his fellow Cuban dissidents have asked the European Union and
Latin American countries to beseech Farinas, 48, to end his protest, but
he says he is prepared to die if the Cuban government does not meet his
demand to release 26 ailing political prisoners.

Farinas, a psychologist and writer, launched his hunger strike on
February 24, a day after dissident prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died
following an 85-day hunger strike for improved prison conditions.

He has been in a hospital in his hometown of Santa Clara, 170 miles
southeast of Havana, receiving fluids intravenously since collapsing on
March 11. His condition is said to be weak, but stable.

A Spanish diplomat offered over the weekend to send Farinas to Spain by
air ambulance, Farinas' mother, Alicia Hernandez, told Reuters in a
telephone interview.

"He said he appreciated the offer, but he did not want to be exiled to
Spain," she said.

A Spanish Embassy spokesman declined to comment.

Zapata's death brought international condemnation of Cuba, which said it
provided him the best care possible, and calls for the communist-led
island to release its estimated 200 political prisoners.

Reportedly at Havana's request, the Spaniards, who currently lead the
27-nation EU, tried before to persuade Farinas to go to Spain, but he
turned them down.

The latest offer followed requests last week from Cuban dissidents, who
have said they do not support hunger strikes, said western diplomats in
the Cuban capital.

Elizardo Sanchez, of the independent Cuban Human Rights Commission, said
his group has encouraged "discreet diplomatic gestures" by European
Union and Latin American countries to end Farinas' strike.

Farinas has refused both food and liquids during his protest and has
collapsed twice since it began.

Cuban officials and doctors have urged him to abandon the hunger strike
and are keeping him in the hospital for treatment.

Farinas has conducted 22 previous hunger strikes which have taken a toll
on his body.

His mother said he suffered a high fever over the weekend, but was
feeling better on Monday.

Cuban leaders view dissidents as U.S.-backed subversives trying to
topple the Cuban government.

At least two other dissidents are known to have begun hunger strikes
after Farinas, and the dissident group "Ladies in White" held marches
for a week to mark the anniversary of the arrest of 75 government
opponents on March 18, 2003.

(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Jeff Franks and
Mohammad Zargham)

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