Cuban activist who staged 134-day hunger strike returns home from hospital

By Anne-marie Garcia, AP
Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cuban ex-hunger striker Farinas home from hospital

HAVANA — Cuban opposition activist Guillermo Farinas returned home from the hospital Thursday three weeks after ending a 134-day hunger strike that left him sluggish, with neck pain and difficulty walking.

The 48-year-old psychologist and freelance journalist said he was in good spirits and happy to be at his house in the central city of Santa Clara, but that his health remains poor and he leans heavily on a cane when walking.

“We feel a bit run down physically, with a lot of neck pain because of the blood clot, difficulties in walking and using a wheelchair,” Farinas told The Associated Press by telephone.

Farinas drank water on July 8, ending a strike that began after the Feb. 23 death of fellow dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who passed away following a lengthy hunger strike behind bars.

Farinas was not in prison during his strike but has been jailed numerous times previously for activism in opposition to Cuba’s single-party communist government.

He had been kept alive through periodic intravenous feedings at a Santa Clara hospital, but began accepting food and water a day after an agreement between the government of President Raul Castro and Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church to release 52 political prisoners.

So far, 20 political prisoners have been freed and flown with their families into exile in Spain. Freedom for the others is expected to take months and it is not clear if they will leave the country.

Castro said in April that if Farinas died, it would be his own fault. But the president didn’t mention Farinas during Monday’s celebration of Revolution Day.

Shortly before he gave up the hunger strike, state media detailed the potentially life-threatening blood clot Farinas had suffered in his neck, but claimed he had actually gained weight due to intravenous feeding.

That report was unusual since government-controlled media outlets traditionally ignore those who openly oppose Cuba’s communist system.

Farinas said Thursday he would be willing to leave Cuba and have surgery in another country to ensure he fully recovers from the blood clot. He said he was “in high spirits” and was looking forward to spending more time with his 8-year-old son, Diosangeles, and to reporting anew for the Cubanacan Press website once his strength returns. He plans to write a book about his plight.

Because the government said it could take up to four months to free all the political prisoners, Farinas said he was prepared to again refuse food and water starting in November.

“I’m giving the government until November 7, we’ll have to wait and see how the government reacts starting then and analyze whether they have met their objectives,” he said.

Farinas said that rather than giving up his strike, he considers it “postponed since there are still many political prisoners who decided not to leave (Cuba), and we’ll have to wait and see after more decisions have been made.”

“The liberation makes us happy, but we would have liked for it to have been to their homes, not from prison to the airport,” Farinas said.

If it holds, the promised prisoner release would mean Cuba has emptied its jails of all of the remaining 75 opposition leaders, community activists and journalists who report on the island in defiance of state controls on media who were rounded up in a March 2003 crackdown on dissent.

Twenty-three members of that group had previously been released. Cuban authorities had said they were “mercenaries” who took money from the U.S. government to destabilize Cuba’s way of life.

According to Cuba’s leading human rights group, even if Cuba releases all 52 prisoners, it will still hold more than 100 people it considers political prisoners. But that list includes bombers, hijackers and fallen intelligence agents mixed in with those jailed simply for insulting Fidel Castro and other politically motivated crimes.

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