Hunger strike in Cuba
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    Cuba dissidents start "Black Spring" protests

    Cuba dissidents start "" protests
    March 16 2010 at 09:08AM
    By Jeff Franks

    Havana – Cuba's "" staged a small, mostly
    silent march through Havana on Monday to begin a week of protest to mark
    the anniversary of the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003 when the
    government imprisoned 75 opponents.

    The anniversary on Thursday comes at a delicate time for Cuba's
    communist government, whose human rights record is already under fire
    for the Feb. 23 death of dissident hunger striker Tamayo
    and for its handling of another opposition hunger striker who has vowed
    to die for his cause.

    About three dozen women, dressed in the dissident group's traditional
    white clothes and carrying flowers, walked through Central Havana to a
    nearby church where they shouted " lives", but otherwise said nothing.

    Zapata's mother, Reyna Tamayo, led the march.

    Passersby looked on with surprise, but in contrast to a December march
    for International Human Rights Day when the ladies were jostled and
    jeered by government supporters, there were no incidents.

    Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan said her group, made up of wives and
    relatives of those jailed in 2003, would stage marches through the city
    every day this week.

    The protests are aimed at stirring support for those imprisoned in what
    became known as the "Black Spring" crackdown on government opponents,
    which began March 18, 2003 and drew broad international condemnation of

    Of those then, 52, including Pollan's husband Hector Maseda,
    remain behind bars. In a declaration from prison last week, they called
    for Cubans to mark the anniversary by fasting and discussing the Bible.

    Zapata, a 42-year-old construction worker, has become a rallying figure
    for Cuba's opposition since he died after an 85-day hunger strike
    demanding better prison conditions.

    Pollan said the Ladies in White opposed hunger strikes, but that
    "unfortunately, you have to water the fields for them to flower. For us,
    we have had to water them with blood, and that blood was of Orlando Zapata."

    Cuban President , who replaced his ailing brother Fidel
    Castro two years ago, expressed regret about Zapata's death, but blamed
    it on the for supporting dissent against the Cuban government.


    Another hunger striker, Guillermo Farinas, 48, is in the 20th day of his
    protest fast in the central city of Santa Clara seeking the release of
    26 ailing political prisoners. He collapsed on Thursday and remains in
    receiving fluids intravenously.

    The two cases have brought calls for Cuba to release its estimated 200
    political prisoners and renewed condemnation from the United States and

    The European Parliament voted last week to denounce the death of Zapata,
    and it expressed alarm about Farinas.

    The resolution by the 27-nation 's elected body marked a
    hardening of its position towards Cuba and damaged hopes by Spain,
    currently leading the and a major investor in Cuba, of the bloc
    engaging the communist-ruled island more closely to encourage change there.

    Havana responded by vowing to resist international pressure for change
    and accusing the Europeans of "great cynicism".

    Cuba has described Zapata and Farinas as common criminals who became
    dissidents because of material benefits they received from its enemies.
    It portrays government opponents as mercenaries working for the United
    States and other foes.

    Pollan said Zapata's death had reawakened international interest in the
    plight of Cuba's political prisoners and had unified island dissidents.
    A third person, former prisoner Orlando Fundora, has also begun a hunger
    strike, she said. – Reuters

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