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Two more Cuban dissidents on hunger strike; EU-Havana talks postponed

Wednesday, March 31st 2010 - 04:01 UTC
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Two dissidents, one of them behind bars, have joined Guillermo Fariñas in a hunger strike, the unofficial Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation said Tuesday.

Franklin Pelegrino on Tuesday has been fasting for 30 days at his home in the eastern province of Holguin, while dissident prisoner Darsi Ferrer announced 10 days ago that he was beginning a hunger strike, commission spokesman Elizardo Sanchez said in a statement.
With Pelegrino and Ferrer, now three dissidents are on hunger strikes in Cuba, since Fariñas has been fasting for more than a month to demand that the Raul Castro government releases 26 ailing political detainees.

Fariñas, 48, began his fast on Feb. 24, following the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike.

Zapata’s death spurred at least a dozen political prisoners and members of the opposite
on to begin similar protests, though all of them called off their fasts after a few days.
Pelegrino is a “defender of human rights” who “on Tuesday completes 30 days of a hunger strike, at home, in support of Fariñas’ demand,” Sanchez said Tuesday.

In the case of Ferrer, a physician, the commission said that he was “recently named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International” and began fasting on March 20 at Valle Grande prison in Havana.

He adds that Ferrer’s protest is taking place for the “poor stomach treatment he receives and the violation of his right to due process, since he has been in jail without trial or any formal charges brought against him since July 21, 2009.”

The rights commission said that “it does not support (hunger strikes) in any context” and said that the Cuban government is “fully capable of bringing about a humane outcome that will keep any more hunger strikers or very ill prisoners from dying.”

The government “should listen, though it be just once in more than 50 years, to the many petitions made by different governments, parliaments, high-ranking dignitaries and NGOs for the release of the most infirm prisoners of conscience, and, in general, all those who are in prison for political reasons,” Sanchez said.

Cuba’s government says there are no political prisoners on the island, dismissing most dissidents as “mercenaries” in the service of the United States.

The opposition, however, puts the number of political detainees at roughly 200. About a quarter of that group, including the late Orlando Zapata, have been designated by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience.

An international uproar over the Zapata case prompted Raul Castro, younger brother of Fidel, to take the unprecedented step of publicly expressing regret for the prisoner’s death, though he denied the government bore any responsibility for the tragedy.

Meanwhile it was announced that a meeting between European Union and Cuban officials planned for next week in Madrid has been suspended and could be rescheduled for late April.

The EU was to be represented by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country currently holds the bloc’s rotating presidency.

Moratinos and a delegation led by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez were supposed to discuss matters of common interest between Brussels and Havana, including the situation of human rights and political prisoners on the communist-ruled island, the sources said.

The now-on-hold meeting had been preceded by tension sparked by the death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike and the ongoing fast by Guillermo Fariñas.

The EU expressed its concern over the situation of Fariñas, just as it did after Zapata’s death, when it demanded that Cuba free its 200 imprisoned opposition members.

Next week’s planned meeting was to have served to verify the willingness of the Cuban regime to move forward in respecting human rights, which would have backed Moratinos’ aim of convincing Spain’s EU partners to change the bloc’s so-called Common Position on Cuba.

That position, established in 1996 on the initiative of then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, links dialogue with Cuban authorities to moves on their part in favor of a democratic opening and defends the dialogue process with the internal opposition.

The Spanish government has emphasized the need to convert the Common Position into a bilateral accord that commits Cuba to respecting human rights and releasing its political prisoners.

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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