|Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his home in Santa Clara, Cuba, Friday, March 5, 2010. Farinas has been refusing food and water for more than a week to protest the Feb. 23 death of another hunger striking dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Farinas is also demanding the release of 33 political prisoners who are in poor health. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)|
Cuba blasts foreign press for dissident coverage
HAVANA—Cuba on Monday strongly criticized foreign press coverage of a dissident hunger striker as part of a campaign to discredit the island's political system.
Guillermo Farinas, a freelance opposition journalist, has refused food and water since Feb. 24 to protest the death of another hunger striker and demand the release from jail of some 26 political prisoners said to be in poor health.
"Cuba will not accept pressure or blackmail," proclaimed a red-letter headline in the Communist Party daily Granma, which said, "Important Western media groups are again calling attention to a prefabricated lie."
It was the first time Cuba's state news media had mentioned the hunger strike.
Several foreign media organizations, including The Associated Press, traveled to Farinas' home in the central city of Santa Clara last week to interview him about his protest.
Farinas told AP he was not demanding the overthrow of the government or greater freedom of expression. He said he would give up his fast if the ailing political prisoners are released, but vowed to otherwise continue until his own death.
Farinas passed out last week and relatives took him to a hospital, where doctors administered fluids intravenously. A family spokeswoman said Monday he is extremely weak.
"His eyes are sunken and he is more dehydrated," Licet Zamora told AP by phone.
Granma said Farinas' legal troubles began because of a physical altercation with a female co-worker -- not politics -- and described him as a paid agent of the United States and employee of the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains in Cuba instead of an embassy. Cuba has long described dissidents as "mercenaries" and claimed they get money from Washington.
Farinas denies receiving funds from the U.S. government. The Cubanacan Press news agency that he works for operates on a free Web log hosting service and on Facebook, where posts also are free.
Other than a full shelf of books, there are no obvious signs of wealth in Farinas' concrete two-story house, which has cracks in its crumbling facade and simple wooden furniture inside.
The Granma article disavowed any government responsibility for Farinas' fate.
"It is not medicine that should resolve a problem that was created intentionally to discredit our political system but rather the patient himself, unpatriotic people, foreign diplomats and the media that manipulates him" Granma wrote. "The consequences will be their responsibility, and theirs alone."
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said in a statement that the article in state-media meant that the government was "laying the groundwork to justify the eventual death" of Farinas.
Granma said that Cuban doctors have repeatedly intervened to save the man's life in the 22 other hunger strikes he has launched over the past 15 years. It also noted that hunger strikes put governments in a difficult position, since many countries consider force feeding a violation of human rights. It said such measures could only be taken once "a patient is in shock."
Farinas' relatives say they will continue to bring him to the hospital and allow doctors to intervene each time he loses consciousness, meaning his hunger strike could go on for some time.
The death of the first hunger striker, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, sparked condemnation of Cuba in Washington and several European capitals. Unlike Farinas, Zapata Tamayo was in prison and was listed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
President Raul Castro said he regretted the man's death but denied he was tortured and blamed problems on the island on Washington's 48-year trade embargo.