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Hunger strikes are US-European "blackmail", declares Castro

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-05

Cuban President Raul Castro said on Sunday that hunger strikes by dissidents in the country are actually "blackmail" and part of a "publicity war" waged by the United States and the European Union.

AFP - Cuba's President Raul Castro defiantly pledged Sunday not to cede to pressure from dissident hunger strikers, calling the actions "blackmail" organized by Europe and the United States.

"We will never cede to blackmail, from any country or group of countries, no matter how powerful they may be, whatever happens. We have the right to defend ourselves," Castro told a congress of Communist youth, referring to a prominent hunger-striking dissident's call for the release of all political prisoners.

"If those countries try to corner us, they should know that we will hold ourselves up, above all, based on truth and on principles," Castro, 78, argued in a closing address to the gathering, decked out in a blue suit instead of his usual fatigues.

The Cuban president charged that the United States and Europe were waging "an unprecedented publicity war" against Havana supported, he claims, by "major western media."

Castro was referring to the uproar over the case of dissident Guillermo Farinas, 48, who has been on hunger strike for the past month. A psychologist by training who became a cyber-journalist amid Cuba's state monopoly on the media, Farinas has been jailed three times for opposing the Americas' only one-party Communist regime.

He decided to go on a full hunger strike when he learned of the death on February 23 of Orlando Zapata, 85 days into a hunger strike, to protest prison conditions.

Zapata's death marked the first time in nearly 40 years a Cuban activist starved himself to death to protest government abuses.

And Zapata's mother charged in video carried on a non-government blog that her son's death was "premeditated murder," an allegation official Cuban media took the unusual step of denying and refuting at length.

"Despite the efforts of our physicians, (Zapata) passed away, for which we expressed regret at the time... and now the only ones benefiting are the same ones who are encouraging another individial to press on in his smilar stance of unacceptable blackmail," Castro said.

Now, in Farinas' case, "we are doing what we can to save his life, but if he does not change his own self-destructive course, he will be responsible along with his sponsors, for the outcome which we do not want," the Cuban president said.

The fate of political dissidents in Cuba has sparked an international outcry from Europe and the United States as well as from human rights groups.

Spain, which holds the rotating six-month rotating presidency of the 27-nation EU, has been at the forefront of efforts to boost relations with Cuba, a former Spanish colony.

Last month, wives and mothers of numerous political prisoners held an unprecedented week of protest marches in Havana in defiance of the authorities to press for the release of the dissidents, some of whom have been held for seven years.

Havana insists it keeps no political prisoners, branding the dissidents in jail as "mercenaries" in the pay of the United States.

Also in March US President Barack Obama slammed Cuba for its continued political and human rights repression and called for an end to the Communist regime's "clenched fist" policy against its people.

Date created : 2010-04-05


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