Hunger strike in Cuba
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    Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Obama administration demand release of Cuban prisoner

    Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Obama administration demand release of Cuban

    Vladimir Morera Bacallao hospitalized after 81-day hunger strike
    State Department, GOP Miami lawmaker express concern over dissident
    Dispute over political prisoner is hiccup in recent improved U.S.-Cuban ties
    McClatchy Washington Bureau

    In a rare alliance of often-conflicting viewpoints on U.S.-Cuban
    relations, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart joined the State Department on Tuesday
    in calling for the immediate release of a Cuban political prisoner who
    is in intensive care following an 81-day hunger strike.

    Vladimir Morera Bacallao was one of 53 dissidents released from prison
    in January under an accord the previous month between President Barack
    Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro. But he was detained again in April
    after displaying a sign suggesting that the national elections were a sham.

    “The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating physical
    condition of Vladimir Morera Bacallao, who has been on a hunger strike
    since October to protest his imprisonment for peacefully expressing
    political dissent,” said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.

    Toner, noting that Morera Bacallao has been hospitalized, reportedly in
    very serious condition, added: “The United States urgently calls on the
    Cuban government to release” the dissident.

    The dispute was the most recent episode in a historic shift in relations
    between Havana and Washington over the last year.

    In a deal brokered by Pope Francis, the United States and Cuba in July
    opened embassies in the two longtime adversaries’ capitals, three months
    after Obama and Castro became the first U.S. and Cuban leaders to meet
    in more than a half century.

    As part of the movement toward normalized relations, the Obama
    administration has lightened restrictions on U.S. citizens’ travel to
    Cuba, although they must do so under a license from the U.S. Treasury

    State Department spokesman Mark Toner

    Despite the administration’s appeal for Morera Bacallao’s release,
    Diaz-Balart criticized both Obama and Castro for the dissident’s
    treatment by the Cuban government.

    “Morera Bacallao has risked everything for the basic right to have a
    voice in his government,” the Miami Republican said. “His unjustifiable
    imprisonment and mistreatment are further indictments of the brutal
    malevolence of the Castro regime, and the utter failure of Obama’s
    appeasement of Cuba’s dictators.”

    As part of a broader normalization of relations under a Dec. 17, 2014,
    agreement, the Cuban government released the last of 53 political
    prisoners last Jan. 11 from a list compiled by the United States.

    “We know there are going to be human rights concerns we still have when
    it comes to Cuba, but we are very pleased that they followed through on
    this commitment,” Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said in
    January after all 53 had been freed.

    During municipal elections in April, Morera Bacallao erected a sign that
    read: “I vote for my freedom and not in an election where I cannot
    choose my president.”

    Two opposition members, Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel Lopez, were the
    first dissidents in decades to run in any election. Both lost their bids
    for local government seats.

    Despite the changes, the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba remains in
    effect. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, saying the embargo costs the
    American economy $1.2 billion a year, backs Obama’s initiative to lift it.

    All eight U.S.-Cuban members of Congress, among them four from Florida,
    oppose normalized relations between the countries while Castro, the
    brother of longtime leader Fidel Castro, remains in power.

    Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, both seeking the
    Republican presidential nomination, are among the most ardent opponents
    of improved ties.

    In addition to Rubio and Diaz-Balart, Republican Reps. Ileana
    Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Carlos Curbelo of Kendall oppose normalized

    A Miami Herald poll published a year ago showed a distinct split in
    viewpoints between Cuban-Americans born in the United States and those
    who emigrated from Cuba.

    A total of 64 percent of those born in the United States supported
    Obama’s initiative to normalize relations, compared with just 38 percent
    of those born in Cuba.

    Source: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Obama administration demand release of
    Cuban prisoner | Miami Herald –

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