Dissident hunger strike in central Cuba rushed to hospital after week without food

By Andrea Rodriguez, AP
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cuban hunger striker briefly hospitalized

HAVANA — A dissident journalist who has refused food and water for a week was rushed to the intensive care unit of a hospital in central Cuba after losing consciousness, then returned home when doctors said they could do nothing for him if he refused to eat, a spokeswoman for his family said Wednesday.

Guillermo Farinas, who files Internet dispatches in defiance of state control on nearly all domestic media, was hospitalized near his home in the central city of Santa Clara around midday, said Licet Zamora, a spokeswoman for the family.

He had complained of headaches and foot pain and Zamora said the family was waiting for him to lose consciousness before they had him hospitalized. She said doctors rehydrated Farinas and sent him to intensive care.

When Farinas regained consciousness, doctors told him he must eat. When he refused, they eventually sent him home because there was nothing they could do for him.

“He is conscious but very weak,” said Zamora. “He is continuing with the hunger strike.”

Farinas has held at least 24 hunger strikes since 1997 and said this time he was prepared to go until he dies to honor Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an imprisoned construction worker who died Feb. 23 after refusing food for weeks. Amnesty International listed Zapata Tamayo as a “prisoner of conscience.”

He was arrested in 2003 and charged with disrespecting authority, but had his sentenced extended to 25 years for activism behind bars.

Zapata Tamayo’s death energized the island’s small dissident community. Farinas was one of five government critics — four of whom are in prison — to stop eating in his honor. All four of the other inmates have since suspended their strikes, said Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Farinas said his hunger strike was also to demand the release of 33 political prisoners who are in poor health.

Cuba’s government did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

In Geneva, meanwhile, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez refused to say if a U.N. torture investigator could examine Cuba’s prisons, despite international protests over Zapata Tamayo’s death. He said Cuba has invited the U.N., but wants to negotiate conditions for its visit.

U.N. investigators reject restrictions on whom they can talk to and what prisons they can see. That has blocked them probing Russia and the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Rodriguez called Zapata Tamayo a common criminal, but did not refer to him by name.

Cuba’s government dismisses all dissidents as paid agents of Washington, out to topple the island’s communist system. President Raul Castro took the unprecedented step of expressing public regret for Zapata Tamayo’s death last week, but said he was treated by top doctors and not tortured or executed.

Authorities later said the victim originally stopped eating because he wanted a TV and other comforts in his prison cell.

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