Hunger strike in Cuba
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    The plight of Cuba's hunger strikers

    The plight of Cuba's hunger strikers

    Cuba's neighbours should tell Castro's regime that if it wishes to avoid
    isolation it needs to improve its record
    John Keegan
    Thursday 18 March 2010 12.30 GMT

    Today marks the seventh anniversary of a vicious crackdown on opponents
    of the Castro regime in Cuba. In the spring of 2003, the news agenda was
    dominated by the preparations for the US-led invasion of Iraq. In
    Havana, 90 so-called "agents of the American enemy" were . Among
    those incarcerated were teachers, doctors, union organisers,
    journalists, human rights activists and dissidents. Seventy-five of
    those arrested were tried in circumstances which fell short of
    international standards. They were given jail sentences ranging from six
    to 28 years. As bombs fell on Baghdad, few voices were raised in protest
    at events in Cuba.

    The anniversary this year is likely to receive more attention. One of
    those arrested in 2003, Tamayo, died last month following
    an 80-day hunger strike. Another , Guillermo "Coco" Farinas,
    who began a hunger strike on February 24, is perilously close to death.
    A third , Ariel Sigler Amaya, who has been in prison
    for 20 years, is in extremely poor in a Havana and,
    according to his family, is receiving inadequate treatment.

    These developments have not gone entirely unnoticed. The European
    parliament has condemned the "avoidable and cruel death" of Tamayo and
    called on the communist dictatorship to release its political prisoners.
    Governments closer to the Caribbean island, however, have been more
    muted in their criticism. Leaders in the region find it more convenient
    to call for the United Kingdom to cede sovereignty over the Falklands
    than to denounce the human rights abuses of their neighbour. A new
    regional grouping, provisionally called the Community of Latin American
    and Caribbean States, will hold its first meeting in Caracas next year
    and has the enthusiastic support of . There is no chance that
    this body will speak out against the of Castro's opponents.
    Latin American leaders are caught in a trap of their own making,
    believing that to criticise human rights abuses in Cuba is somehow to
    support Washinghton's embargo.

    The despots in Havana seem to think that they can pursue the "
    model" of modern development – reaching out with one hand for economic
    ties with foreign countries, while crushing internal dissent with the
    other. Cuba's neighbours need to tell Castro's regime that if it wishes
    to avoid isolation it needs to improve its human rights record. As the
    brave Cuban men and women who dare to speak out against their rulers are
    harassed, imprisoned and worse, the prospect remains shamefully remote.

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