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article imageLeading Cuban dissident begins hunger strike

By AFP     Jul 21, 2016 in World

Renowned Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas said Thursday he has begun a hunger strike demanding the Raul Castro government end torture and other human rights abuses against opponents.

Farina, awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize in 2010, told AFP that he stopped consuming food and liquids on Wednesday to coincide with the first anniversary of the reestablishment of Cuba-US diplomatic relations.

"We are not asking that the government stop arresting us -- that makes us proud --but that they stop the beatings, the tortures when they arrest us," Farinas said in a phone interview from his home in Santa Clara, in western Cuba.

In a letter addressed to President Castro, the 54-year-old dissident said he would continue his fast until the leader pledged that his opponents would no longer be "tortured, beaten, threatened with death."

"I will continue until they give me what I am asking or until death," he told AFP.

Farinas over the years has gone on several hunger strikes to draw attention to what he says are oppressive policies carried out by the Havana regime, including a 2010 fast that left him near death.

The Cuban government, which denies it has political prisoners, did not comment on Farinas's latest demands.

According to the dissident, the opposition to the Castro regime faces "an escalation of violence" since the official re-establishment of ties between the former Cold War foes.

"They (government leaders) feel legitimized by the governments of the United States and the European Union," he added. The 28-nation bloc is the island's second-largest trade partner after Venezuela.

In March, the EU and Cuba signed a deal in Havana to normalize relations. The agreement entails "promoting dialogue and cooperation to foster sustainable development, democracy and human rights," the EU's top foreign affairs official, Federica Mogherini, said at the time.

On the heels of that agreement, Barack Obama visited Cuba in late March, the first US president to visit since 1928.

During that historic visit, he met with a group of Cuban dissidents, including Farinas, at the US embassy in Havana. Obama praised their "extraordinary courage."

According to the Cuban Human Rights Committee, 93 prisoners are being held for "political reasons or charged and sentenced in politically motivated trials."

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