Tags: Cuba | hunger | strike | policies

Hunger Strikes Testing Cuba Policies

Friday, 12 March 2010 10:06 AM

SÃO PAULO, Brazil—Back-to-back hunger strikes by Cuban dissidents have brought international condemnation to the island's communist government and stirred political turmoil for some leaders friendly to Cuba.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose government is becoming a major investor in Cuba, has faced an avalanche of criticism at home and abroad after defending Cuba's right to imprison political opponents and appearing to dismiss the plight of the protesters.

On Thursday, the European Parliament voted to condemn Cuba for the "avoidable and cruel" death of Orlando Zapata, a 42-year-old laborer who died Feb. 23 after an 86-day strike for better jail conditions. The statement also decried the "alarming state" of Guillermo Fariñas, a dissident journalist who stopped eating after Mr. Zapata's death.

Mr. Fariñas passed out on Thursday and was rushed to a hospital where he was given intravenous fluids, the Associated Press reported.

Spain's Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a proponent of European engagement of Cuba, has also come under criticism in the wake of the strikes, though Spain denounced the Cuban government's handling of Mr. Zapata's hunger strike.

Cuban leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro have weathered international criticisms over executions and other human-rights abuses in the past, and are unlikely to be moved by the EU condemnation, analysts say. But the strikes may lead to further economic isolation for Cuba by creating political trouble for its international advocates.

A case in point could be Mr. da Silva, a former union leader who rose to Brazil's presidency from poverty and who enjoys a global image as a champion of the common man.

Mr. da Silva was in Cuba on the day Mr. Zapata was buried. "I don't think a hunger strike can be used as a pretext for human rights to free people. Imagine if all the criminals in São Paulo entered into hunger strikes to demand freedom," Mr. da Silva told the Associated Press when asked about the protester's death.

Mr. Fariñas, the dissident journalist, said in a newspaper interview that the Brazilian president's comment shows his "commitment to the tyranny of Castro, and his contempt for the political prisoners and their families."

Mr. da Silva himself staged a hunger strike during a month-long stint in jail during Brazil's military dictatorship in the late 1970s.

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Friday, 12 March 2010 10:06 AM
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