Cuba reports dissident near death, fails to mention hunger strike

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In unprecedented coverage of a dissident's protest, the Communist Party daily Granma reported Saturday Guillermo Farinas could soon die -- without mentioning his hunger strike urging that all political prisoners be freed has left him near death.

Farinas' mother, Alicia Hernandez, confirmed to AFP her 48-year-old son's delicate condition, but said he was "standing firm" and would continue his hunger strike, now 130 days on, until Cuba frees ailing jailed dissidents.

The Granma report cited a doctor as saying Farinas had a blood clot in his jugular vein. It was rehashed in a shorter version on the official television news, again without the context of why Farinas was at death's door.

The Americas' lone one-party Communist regime, Cuba has been politically embarrassed by dissidents' recent hunger strikes. They have drawn international criticism and greater scrutiny of its human rights situation.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera meanwhile said his government would approach Cuba and the US-based Organization of American States "to try to save the life of Guillermo Farinas."

Armando Caballero, head doctor at the hospital in Santa Clara, in central Cuba, where Farinas has been treated with an IV drip since March 11, told Granma the patient's health was deteriorating fast.

"Today, the patient is potentially at risk of death because his life depends on how the blood clot progresses," he said, adding that Farinas was getting "adequate treatment."

The interview, carried in part on national television, was unusual in that Cuba never issues public reports on political prisoners -- indeed the Cuban government only admits to jailing people it calls "mercenaries in the pay of foreign governments."

The interview only mentioned Farinas' health and omitted the reasons for his hunger strike, not mentioning that he is a prominent opposition figure.

The head of Cuba's dissident Human Rights Commission, Elizardo Sanchez, said Granma's report and interview was "a premeditated move by the regime" to lessen the blow of international criticism should Farinas die in their hands.

President Raul Castro has stated in the past that his government would never give in to hunger strikes used as "blackmail." But in May he scrambled to negotiate with Roman Catholic Church officials seeking to mediate in the Farinas controversy.

Sanchez said that despite the government's ploy, if Farinas were to die "only the government is guilty."

Pinera said in a speech in Santiago that by intervening in the Farinas case, he was trying to avoid "a repetition of the sad story of Orlando Zapata," a leading Cuban dissident who died February 23 after an 85-day hunger strike.

Farinas, an Internet journalist and a veteran of 22 hunger strikes since 1995, took up Zapata's cause and launched his hunger strike the day after his death. Initially, he was seeking the release of 26 sick, jailed dissidents.

The international outcry over both hunger strikes and pressures from the Roman Catholic Church led the Castro regime last month to free a paraplegic dissident and transfer 12 other prisoners to jails closer to their homes.

Church representatives asked Farinas if they could mediate on his behalf. He said he would only call off his hunger strike after 10-12 sick political prisoners are set free, and the government pledges to release all jailed dissidents.

Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos arrives in Cuba Monday to try to facilitate dialogue. He offered to take Farinas to Spain for medical treatment. But Farinas said no.

"There are moments in history when there have to be martyrs," Farinas said earlier this year in an interview with Spain's El Pais.

© 2010 AFP

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