Thursday, October 21, 2010

EU rights prize for Cuban dissident Farinas

Posted on Thursday, 10.21.10
EU rights prize for Cuban dissident Farinas
The Associated Press

STRASBOURG, France -- The European Parliament awarded its annual human
rights prize on Thursday to Guillermo Farinas, the Cuban dissident whose
134-day hunger strike helped draw attention to the plight of political
dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown on dissent.

Cuba began freeing the 52 political prisoners earlier this year after an
agreement ironed out with the help of the Roman Catholic Church,
prompting Farinas to end his protest.

A 48-year-old psychologist and freelance journalist, he has spent more
than 11 years in prison himself for a variety of offenses, though he was
not behind bars during the hunger strike. He decided to launch his
protest after the death of a jailed political prisoner following a long
hunger strike.

Cuba's government considers him a common criminal paid for by Cuba's
enemies in Washington, and notes that some of his legal troubles include
an assault on a co-worker and other violent behavior. Farinas says all
the charges are linked to his activism.

Reached by telephone at his humble home in the central Cuban city of
Santa Clara, Farinas said the award sent a strong signal to the
government in Havana.

"The award is a very direct message to Cuba's leaders, who have done so
little" to respect human rights, he said.

Farinas warned he will begin another hunger strike if the Cuban
government does not fulfill its July 8 pledge to free all 52 political
prisoners jailed in 2003 within four months. To date, 39 have accepted
exile in Spain in return for their freedom. At least some of the
remaining 13 appear to be holding out because they do not want to leave

The European Parliament said it will invite Farinas to come to
Strasbourg on Dec. 15 to collect the assembly's 2010 Sakharov Prize for
Freedom of Thought. The prize carries a cash award of euro50,000 ($69,205).

The prize is bound to rile Havana's communist leaders and complicate
efforts to improve their relations with Europe that have been strained
since the 2003 crackdown on dissent.

Cuba's leaders are already angry over the recent decision to award the
Nobel Prize for literature to Mario Vargas Llosa, the Chilean author
whose disdain for Fidel and Raul Castro is well-known, and the Peace
Prize to a jailed pro-democracy activist in China, an important Cuban ally.

Previous winners of the Sakharov Prize include Aung San Suu Kyi, the
Burmese opposition leader, and former South African President Nelson

Europe's top human-rights prize was awarded twice before to Cubans: in
2002 to pro-democracy activist Oswaldo Paya and in 2005 to a dissident
group, Ladies in White.

A former Cuban soldier, Farinas is a contributor to the independent
press agency "Cubanacan Press," which is maintained by anti-Castro

Since 2006 he has repeatedly chosen hunger strikes to protest what he
says is the lack of freedom - notably the internet censorship - and
shaky respect for human rights in his country.

The Sakharov Award was announced four days before the EU foreign
ministers are to assess the 27-nation bloc's relations with Cuba. The
EU's view has long been that Cuba must improve its human rights record
before relations can be upgraded.

Spain spearheads a bid to improve relations, but the bloc's former
communist members in Eastern Europe oppose this.

Farinas said he opposes any improvement in European relations with his
country, and he brushed off the release of political prisoners as
insufficient. "The release of prisoners is not enough to make Cuba a
democratic country," he added.
Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this story from

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