Saturday, October 23, 2010

Dissident's prize another Cuba thorn

Posted on Thursday, 10.21.10

Dissident's prize another Cuba thorn
Cuban activist Guillermo Fariñas, awarded a European human rights prize,
said he will start a new hunger strike if he's not allowed to leave the
island to receive the honor.

A prestigious human rights prize awarded to dissident Guillermo Fariñas
on Thursday was the fourth admonition to the Cuban government this week
that its reforms are not enough, Cuba watchers said Thursday.

Fariñas, 48, a psychologist and independent journalist whose 135-day
hunger strike earlier this year put him near death, was awarded the
Sakharov prize and more than $60,000 by the European Parliament.

``This is a message that the democratic governments in the civilized
world are sending to the Cuban government that freeing some political
prisoners is not enough,'' he told El Nuevo Herald by phone from his
home in the central city of Santa Clara.

``It's not a prize for Guillermo Fariñas,'' he added.

``It's a prize for the rebelliousness of this people against the
dictatorship, the prisoners, the people on the streets receiving blows
and threats,'' he added.

Fariñas added that he might stage another hunger strike if he's not
allowed to leave Cuba to receive the prize at a ceremony Dec. 15 in
Strasbourg, France, home of the European parliament. Cuba regularly
denies exit permits to dissidents awarded international prizes.

The Raúl Castro government had no immediate comment on Fariñas' prize,
but Cuba watchers noted that it was the latest in a string of setbacks
that Havana suffered just this week:

• President Barack Obama declared that Cuba has not changed enough to
merit U.S. gestures.

• Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, often criticized as
too friendly to Havana, was replaced.

• The European Union was reported unlikely to end a policy that ties
assistance to Cuba's human rights record.

``These are four messages to Cuba that it's not doing enough, that it
needs a more defined policy of change,'' dissident Havana economist
Oscar Espinosa Chepe told El Nuevo Herald.

``Havana has been hit with four buckets of cold water,'' added José
Antonio Blanco, a formeranalyst for the Central Committee of the Cuban
Communist Party nowliving in South Florida.

Fariñas was reported close to death several times during his most recent
hunger strike, launched to demand the release of all political prisoners
one day after the Feb. 23 death of jailed dissident Orlando Zapata
Tamayo -- from a hunger strike.

He suspended the strike 135 days later, many of them spent in a hospital
where he received nutrition by intravenous tubes, after the Castro
government promised on July 7 to free 52 political prisoners. Nearly 40
have already been freed,and sent into exile in Spain.

Still painfully gaunt, Fariñas remains so weak that he had to take a
midday nap Thursday even as supporters crowded his home and his
telephones rang incessantly with well-wishers, said his 75-year-old
mother, Alicia Hernandez.

His latest hunger strike, and Castro's concession after talks with the
Roman Catholic Church and Moratinos, made Fariñas one of the best-known
and most watched dissidents on the communist-run island.

A former member of an Interior Ministry paramilitary unit who fought in
Angola, he broke with the government after the 1989 execution of Gen.
Arnaldo Ochoa on drug smuggling charges. He has been jailed three times
and staged two dozen earlier hunger strikes to protest various
government actions.

The European parliament awarded the prize, named after the late Russian
dissident Andrei Sakharov, to Cuban activist Oswaldo Payá in 2002 and in
2005 to the Ladies in White -- female relatives of political prisoners.

Castro critics on the island and abroad praised the award to Fariñas and
said it amounted to a call to the Cuban government to stop repressing
dissidents and move toward democracy.

The prize ``is a message to the government that we're not alone, and
that it has to undertake changes,'' said Havana dissident Miriam Leiva,
the wife of Espinosa Chepe.

Fariñas ``has resorted to hunger strikes to protest and defy the lack of
freedom of expression in Cuba,'' said the president of the European
Parliament, Jerzy Buzek of Poland, in announcing the prize.

``Fariñas' hunger strike made it impossible for the world to ignore the
dissidents imprisoned in Cuba,'' said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas
director at Human Rights Watch. His prize ``highlights Cuba's
responsibility to free every last political prisoner and dismantle the
laws that punish dissent.''

Analysts were split, however, on whether the four setbacks suffered by
the Cuban government this week would drive it to make concessions on
human rights and democracy.

``They may react in ways that are seen as softening positions on one
issue or another, but not on the central nature of the political
system,'' said Peter Deshazo, a Latin America expert at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, a Washington research center.

But Cuba's leadership, argued Blanco, sometimes ``does give way when
they face a crisis, when they see that their survival is at stake.''

They were hoping that Obama would lift all restrictions on U.S. travel
to Cuba and that the European Union would lift its Common Policy --
Europe's stance on Cuba -- -- changes that would pump hundred of
millions of dollars into the government's coffers.

Said Blanco: ``In two days, their sand castle of cards fell apart.''

This report was supplemented with material from El Nuevo Herald wire

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