Cuba Blasts Foreign Press For Dissident Coverage

By: Paul Haven - AP Writer
By: Paul Haven - AP Writer

HAVANA (AP) - 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.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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