Dissidents in Cuba
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Dissident ready to be martyr for freedom of information

Posted on Sat, Mar. 04, 2006

CUBA
Dissident ready to be `martyr for freedom of information’

A dissident journalist in Cuba has been on a hunger strike for more than
a month, demanding access to the Internet.
BY FRANCES ROBLES
frobles@MiamiHerald.com

Psychologist turned dissident Guillermo Fariñas says there are but two
weapons he can wield against injustice in Cuba: food and water.

He’s had neither since Jan. 31, and the independent journalist is vowing
to continue his hunger strike until the Cuban government returns his
e-mail — his portal to the outside world.

”If I have to be a martyr for freedom of information, I will,” he told
The Miami Herald in a telephone interview from Santa Clara last month.

Fariñas, 43, is one of Cuba’s independent journalists, most of them
government opponents who gather information about human rights abuses
and other news that never appear in government-run papers. Lacking such
tools as computers or tape recorders, they usually phone in their
stories to exile organizations in Miami.

Fariñas, director of a news agency in the central city of Santa Clara
called Cubanacán Press, sent his dispatches by e-mail from a local
Internet café.

A day after he was prominently quoted in a front-page Miami Herald
article Jan. 23 about a wave of attacks against dissidents, Fariñas
found all the e-mail addresses he normally sent articles to had been
blocked. So he sent an open letter to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, vowing
to die unless he got his e-mail back.

FED WITH AN IV

A week later, he refused all liquids and solids. Fariñas — known as
”el Coco” to his friends — collapsed nine days later and was
transferred to a hospital. He is being fed with an IV drip in the
intensive care unit at Arnoldo Milián Castro Hospital, his mother,
Alicia Hernández, said.

”His head hurts, and his legs are bothering him. Sometimes, his blood
pressure drops, but other times he’s stable,” Hernández said by phone
from Santa Clara. “Everyone, not just me, but the people who call him
from outside Cuba, plus the doctors and nurses, have tried to get him to
stop, but he will not give in. He is determined.”

She said he’s lost more than 60 pounds.

This is not the first time Hernández has seen her son emaciated. He told
The Miami Herald that this is his 20th hunger strike in 10 years.

He fasted when Cuban authorities jailed him in late 2002 after he
protested what he considered rigged local elections. Photos of his
release in November 2003 show him shrunken in a wheelchair. He could no
longer walk. Cubanet, an independent news website, wrote that he lasted
400 days being fed by IV.

`VERY FIRM’

”He has a very sweet character, but at the same time he’s very firm,”
said Manuel Vázquez Portal, a former independent journalist who now
lives in Miami. “He deeply loves justice, and when he thinks something
is unjust, he fights against it with all his strength.”

And for Fariñas, Vázquez said, the injustice is the lack of Web access
in a nation where the government controls the Internet and cafés charge
a month’s wages for an hour online.

”I am against hunger strikes and don’t recommend them,” said Vázquez,
a veteran of four such protests.

“It’s something you do when you are desperate. Coco is desperate.”

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/world/americas/14014415.htm

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