Cuba Hunger Striker Rejects Exile

Patricia Grogg

Havana Balcony. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, March 8 (IPS) — The state news media in Cuba reported Monday on the case of dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who has been on a hunger strike for 13 days and refuses to go into exile in Spain.

An article titled “Cuba will not accept pressure or blackmail”, published by Granma, the mouthpiece of the governing Communist Party, says that “as a result of successive hunger strikes, Fariñas’ body is in a process of significant deterioration” and he is only alive “thanks to the skilled medical care he has received”.

Monday’s was the first reference in the state media to Fariñas’ hunger strike, who is demanding the release of 26 political prisoners who reportedly have health problems.

Cuban authorities asked Spain to take Fariñas in, diplomatic sources from that European nation told reporters.

But the activist said he would not call off his hunger strike and said he would only travel to Madrid if he were denied medical care in Cuba, in order to continue his fast there.

The dissident was visited late last week at his home in Santa Clara, a city nearly 300 km east of the capital, by Spanish diplomats.

They reportedly asked him, without success, to call off his fast and engage in talks.

Spain, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is trying to change the bloc’s so-called “common position” on Cuba by eliminating a clause calling for democracy and improved human rights, in order to remove hurdles to improved relations with this Caribbean island nation.

The government of Raul Castro sees the EU’s demands as meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

Fariñas began his fast on Feb. 24, the day after imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata died on the 85th day of a hunger strike.

The two cases have made headlines around the world, standing in sharp contrast to the government’s habitual silence on issues involving dissidents.

Granma accused unnamed “major Western media outlets” of drawing attention to the case by spreading “a prefabricated lie,” while ignoring news like Cuba’s abundant medical aid to earthquake-torn Haiti or the start of a massive vaccine campaign in Cuba that will protect more than half a million children from polio.

“The manipulation goes to such an extent that journalistic reports even claim the Cuban government has indicated that this paid employee of the United States Interests Section (SINA) in Havana should be allowed to die, while they do not write a single word on the multiple efforts by our health professionals to provide assistance to this individual,” Granma wrote.

The Cuban government considers all dissidents, regardless of how radical or moderate they are or whether or not they have ties with groups or individuals abroad, as “mercenaries” or paid employees at the service of Washington’s hostile policy towards Cuba. By the same logic, it denies that there are any political prisoners in Cuba’s jails.

Granma described Fariñas as a “counter-revolutionary” who in 1995 physically assaulted a female employee at a health facility where he worked as a psychologist, “causing multiple wounds to her face and arms.”

The incident, after which he was put on parole for three years, “revealed his clearly unhinged personality, and showed that there was no political aspect involved,” reported the newspaper, according to which Fariñas revealed his “violent nature” once again in 2002, when he beat an elderly man with a cane in Santa Clara and was sentenced to nearly six years in prison.

Fariñas, who describes himself as an independent journalist, has gone on several hunger strikes in the past.  One of his demands has been Internet access in his home.

“His service sheet is long, including attendance at activities of all kinds in SINA and several European diplomatic offices that direct the subversion in Cuba, from which they receive instructions, money and supplies,” the newspaper wrote.

According to Granma, “in this case, it is not medicine that is needed to resolve this problem that has been intentionally created with the purpose of discrediting our political system, but the patient himself and the unpatriotic Cubans, foreign diplomats and media outlets manipulating him. The consequences will be solely and entirely their responsibility.”

The government has never given in to pressure of this kind, and is even less likely to do so in a case that has drawn heavy media coverage.

Most Cubans are basically unaware of the activity of dissidents in this country.

In a statement to the foreign press Monday, Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), clarified that his organization is “vigorously and publicly opposed to hunger strikes.”

But Sanchez also said the Cuban government has the obligation to provide Fariñas with the necessary medical attention.

The activist told IPS that Fariñas is accompanied by a friend who is a doctor and that he has also been visited by the local doctor.  Last week the hunger striker was briefly admitted to hospital, after passing out because of low blood sugar.