At death's door, Farinas ends hunger strike

9th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Sitting up in his hospital bed, Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas raised a painfully thin arm, smiled feebly and waved at dozens of visitors on the other side of a plate-glass window, before signing a statement that ended his 135-day hunger strike.

He is the only patient in the intensive care unit, in this, his home city of Santa Clara, where he was rushed to on May 11 for an emergency IV drip, seven weeks into a hunger strike that raised international attention and Cuban government concerns.

A psychologist and leading dissident, Farinas, 48, began his protest the day after another top dissident, Orlando Zapata, died after an 85-day hunger strike also aimed at raising awareness about political prisoners.

Farinas was demanding the release of 25 sick jailed dissidents. On Wednesday, Havana agreed to release twice as many -- 52 in all, five soon and 47 within the next three to four months, according to the Catholic Church, which mediated the deal.

A veteran of hunger strikes since 1995, Farinas wore his blue pajamas proudly over his frail, once-athletic body he has been using as a leverage against the communist government of President Raul Castro.

However, his drawn face and extreme weakness betrayed the price of his victory.

Watching him through the plate-glass window, friends and followers saw a man close to death. Farinas' health took a turn for the worse 10 days ago when doctors found a blood clot lodged in his jugular vein they have since been struggling to dissolve.

After news of the prisoner release broke, dissidents from all corners of Cuba traveled to Santa Clara hoping to convince Farinas to end his protest -- he initially demanded that all 25 prisoners be set free at once before he could take nourishment.

The dissidents gathered in a park next to the hospital, joined hands and prayed for Farinas' life.

It was former political prisoner Hector Palacios' turn to speak with Farinas on Thursday. After his meeting, he phoned his wife who in turn broke the news in the park: "Farinas is ending his hunger strike... as of this moment."

The group broke into hugs and cheers, shouting "Viva Farinas. Viva human rights."

There were no police to be seen in or around the park.

During afternoon visiting hours, the dissidents crowded the narrow hospital hallway to get a glimpse of their hero through the window.

Without uttering a single word, Farinas, known affectionately as "El Coco," signed a statement of intent that he was ending his protest.

"It's quite important for us because Coco's life is very significant. He's risked his life for our relatives," said Laura Pollan, who heads Ladies in White, a dissident group made up of wives of political prisoners who have been quite vocal lately.

"All of the democratic people of Cuba are dancing with joy," said Felix Bonne, another dissident who offered to take up Farinas' cause if he had died.

Farinas' first move after ending his hunger strike was to drink a glass of water. But doctors warned him to go slow, saying that weaning him from his IV feeding would take time to avoid damaging his digestive system.

"This confrontation... has no winners or losers, only Cuba, our nation, has won," Farinas said in a statement his supporters held up at a hospital window for the world to read.

© 2010 AFP

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