July 6, 2010 / 12:20 AM / 9 years ago

Cuban hunger striker says he is near death

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban hunger striker Guillermo Farinas said in a statement posted on the Internet on Monday that he is near death and that Fidel and Raul Castro will be to blame if he dies.

Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas sits at home in Santa Clara in this March 5, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/Files

His comments followed a report in the Communist Party newspaper Granma on Saturday that Farinas, who has refused to eat for 131 days, was in danger of dying from a blood clot in his neck and that further medical treatment may be difficult.

“I am conscious of my nearing death and I consider it an honor because I am trying to save the lives of 25 political prisoners and (prisoners) of conscience that the homeland needs as leaders,” said Farinas.

The 48-year-old psychologist is demanding the release of 25 jailed government opponents said to be in poor health.

His case is the latest dissident protest in Cuba to capture international attention. The February 23 death of another hunger striker, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, drew condemnation from the United States and Europe.

Farinas has been receiving nutrients intravenously at a hospital in the central city of Santa Clara, and he said he has gained as much as 35 pounds during his hunger strike.

His lead physician, Armando Caballero, told Granma that Farinas is receiving medicine to dissolve the dangerous clot, but repeated infections have forced a halt to intravenous feeding.

Farinas praised his doctors and said “The only ones responsible for my future death are the brothers Fidel and Raul Castro.”

“I want to die in my homeland under the noses of the dictators who possess pistols, rifles, canons and bombs,” he said.

COMMON CRIMINAL

President Raul Castro, who succeeded his ailing older brother Fidel Castro in February 2008, has called Farinas a “common criminal.” But he has said everything is being done to keep him alive.

If he dies, Castro said in a recent speech, it will be his own fault and that of the United States and others for fomenting dissent against the island’s communist-led government.

Cuban leaders consider dissidents to be mercenaries working for their enemies to undermine the Cuban state.

Farinas’ decline comes at a critical time as the Catholic Church is trying to gain the release of Cuba’s 167 political prisoners through dialogue with the government.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos was due to arrive in Havana on Monday night to lend support to the Church’s efforts, which were launched in a May meeting between President Castro and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

One ailing political prisoner was freed in June and 12 others moved to jails closer to home. More releases are expected.

The death of Zapata, who pressed for improved prison conditions, stained Cuba’s image and is believed by some to have led to a recent easing of government policy toward dissidents.

The independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights reported on Monday that the 167 political prisoners now behind bars was the lowest number since the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.

Editing by Chris Wilson

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