Cuban state media: dissident hunger striker could die after blood clot, but has gained weight

By Will Weissert, AP
Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cuba says hunger striker ‘in danger’ of dying

HAVANA — Cuba’s state-run media said Saturday that an opposition activist who has refused food and water for 129 days has actually gained weight due to intravenous feeding, but that he has suffered a blood clot that left him “in danger of potential death.”

In an unusual step, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported that Guillermo Farinas is conscious and stable but could slip into grave condition at any time.

It quoted Armando Caballero, head of intensive care at Arnaldo Milian Castro University Hospital in the central city of Santa Clara, where Farinas has been treated since March 11.

“We are pushing the limits (of Farinas’ health), now more than ever,” Caballero said.

Farinas has drawn international attention since he stopped eating and drinking on Feb. 24 to demand that authorities free dozens of political prisoners and to protest the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after his own long hunger strike in prison — the first Cuban opposition figure to die after refusing food in nearly 40 years.

Cuba’s government says it hold no political prisoners, charging that dissidents are paid agents of Washington working to destablize its government.

The Granma story, which detailed doctors’ efforts to keep the hunger striker alive, filled two of the newspaper’s eight pages. It follows Spanish media reports that self-described “dissident” doctors close to Farinas say he has taken a turn for the worse and could die at any time.

Cuba’s official media usually ignores dissidents, often only mentioning them to denounce their ties to the United States or otherwise criticize them.

Cuba is giving its side of the story two days before the arrival of Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who is expected to discuss Cuba’s human rights situation. Spain has offered Farinas a visa that would allow him exile in that country to recover his health, but he has vowed to remain in Cuba and continue his hunger strike.

Farinas, 48, is a psychologist who works as a freelance journalist, reporting on Cuba in defiance of state controls on all media.

He has been kept alive by nutrients administered through a tube. He first remained at home, but was taken to Caballero’s hospital after his health deteriorated.

Caballero told Granma that doctors have battled several blood infections in Farinas and that last week, he suffered a blood clot, as well as an additional infection.

There is danger that clot could interrupt blood flow to his heart and kill him, Caballero said. “We have seen discreet improvement, although we can’t say that this rules out more serious complications.”

He said Farinas gained between 9 and 13 pounds since arriving at the hospital, going from 140 pounds to between 149 and 152. He also told the paper that Farinas has watched the World Cup on television in his hospital room.

Farinas has a phone in his room, but was unavailable for comment Saturday. His mother Alicia Hernandez, herself a registered nurse, said Granma had not misstated the facts, however.

“He has maintained basic nutrition levels,” she said in a phone interview, adding that doctors “are doing everything they can.”

She said Farinas will continue to refuse food and water until Cuban political prisoners are released.

“This is in the government’s hands,” Hernandez said. “Guillermo is in his final days if his demands aren’t met, and they are humanitarian demands.”

Farinas has held 22 other hunger strikes in the past 15 years, and has been jailed repeatedly on charges such as disrespecting authority, public disorder and assault against a suspected undercover government informant.

President Raul Castro has said that Cuba will do all it can for him, but that if he dies it will be his own fault.

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