'I'm going to continue in my battle for democracy,' winner of EU award says
HAVANA — A Cuban dissident said he would not attend a ceremony in France
to accept the European Parliament's top human rights prize because Cuban
authorities had not given him permission to make the trip.
Guillermo Farinas, whose long hunger strike helped pressure Havana into
releasing political prisoners this year, told Reuters he had not
received the exit visa that he needed to leave Cuba for the Wednesday event.
"Nobody communicated with me. Now this is impossible," he said by
telephone from his home in Santa Clara, 170 miles east of Havana.
The ceremony, to be held in Strasbourg, was scheduled for Wednesday.
The European Parliament said it would transmit a message from Farinas
and have an empty chair to represent him.
"I'm going to continue in my battle for democracy in Cuba, whether they
let me leave or don't let me leave," Farinas said.
The Communist Cuban government, which views dissidents as mercenaries
working for its ideological enemy, the United States, has said nothing
Farinas, a 48-year-old psychologist, went on a 135-day hunger strike
this year to demand that Cuba release political prisoners.
He called it off in July when it was announced that 52 prisoners jailed
since a 2003 crackdown would be released in a deal struck by the
Catholic Church with President Raul Castro.
So far, 41 of the prisoners have been freed, with all but one agreeing
to go to Spain. Cuban Catholic leader Cardinal Jaime Ortega has said the
government has promised to release the remaining prisoners soon.
'Nothing has changed in Cuba'
The 27-nation European Union, along with the United States, has long
pressed Cuba to release political prisoners, improve human rights and
move toward democracy.
It has recently taken steps toward improving ties with Cuba, which also
seeks a normalization of relations but only if the EU drops its common
position calling for democratic change in Cuba.
Joseph Daul, a member of the European parliament from France, said
Farinas' absence "means that nothing has changed in Cuba."
The EU awarded Farinas the Sakharov Prize, named for late Soviet
dissident Andrei Sakharov, in October.
The prize, which has been given out since 1988, includes 50,000 euros
It was awarded twice previously to Cubans — in 2002 to dissident Oswaldo
Paya and in 2005 to the opposition group Ladies in White.
Paya was permitted by the Cuban government to go accept the prize, but
the Ladies in White were not.
The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded last week to Chinese dissident Liu
Xiaobo , who is imprisoned in China and could not attend. An empty chair
also represented him at the ceremony.