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  HOME | Cuba

Mexico Worried about Health of Cuban Hunger Striker

MEXICO CITY – The Mexican government expressed its concern for the state of health of Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who has been on a hunger strike for the last 20 days, and lamented the death last month of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day fast.

“With full respect for Cuban sovereignty and the principle of national self-determination, Mexico urges the Cuban government to take the necessary action to protect the health and dignity of all its prisoners,” the Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement.

At the same time, the communique said that “no country should, of itself, sit in judgment on the (human rights) situation prevailing in other countries.”

Fariñas, who has mounted some two dozen hunger strikes over the past 15 years, began his current fast last month when government agents stopped him from attending Orlando Zapata’s funeral.

The 48-year-old psychologist and independent journalist is currently hospitalized in the central city of Santa Clara after losing consciousness last week.

He says the aim of the hunger strike is to secure the release of 26 ailing political prisoners and he vows to resume the protest once he is discharged.

“Mexico and Cuba have institutional systems for dealing jointly with these subjects,” the Mexican foreign ministry said. “Within that framework, our countries have developed a frank, honest dialogue that allows us to share experiences and discuss differences.”

Mexico sees it as a “priority” to maintain “close and constructive relations with Cuba,” with which it has ties based “on a view of government and not on ideological positions.”

Outstanding Spanish and Latin American artists, writers and intellectuals including Pedro Almodovar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Juan Marse, Ana Belen, Victor Manuel and Angeles Mastretta have supported a manifesto on the Internet for the freedom of Cuba’s political prisoners.

The manifesto, posted on blogs – orlandozapatatamayo.blogspot.com and firmasjamaylibertad.com/ozt/ – under the slogan “Orlando Zapata Tamayo. I accuse the Cuban government,” had received by Tuesday more than 5,500 signatures.

Signatories demand “immediate and unconditional freedom for all political prisoners in Cuban jails.”

They also request “respect for the exercise, promotion and defense of human rights in every part of the world” and stress “the decency and courage of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, unjustly jailed and brutally tortured in Castro prisons, who died on a hunger strike denouncing those crimes and the lack of rights and democracy in his country.”

The manifesto pleads for “respect for the lives of those who run the risk of dying as he did to keep the government of Fidel and Raul Castro from continuing to physically eliminate its critics and the peaceful opposition, sentencing them to as much as 28 years in prison for ‘crimes’ of opinion.”

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

Havana insists its physicians did all they could for Zapata, 42, short of subjecting him to force-feeding, an option rejected on ethical grounds, but the prisoner’s mother and other dissidents say he suffered severe mistreatment prior to the hunger strike.

The international uproar over Zapata’s death prompted President Raul Castro – who formally succeeded ailing older brother Fidel two years ago – to take the unprecedented step of publicly expressing regret, though he denied the government was responsible for the tragedy.

The Ladies in White, a group made up of relatives of the 75 Cuban dissidents arrested and jailed in March 2003, is currently marking the seventh anniversary of the “Black Spring” crackdown.

While some of the “Group of 75” prisoners have been paroled on medical grounds, 54 of them remain behind bars. EFE

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