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Brazil leader rapped for stance on Cuba dissidents

Last Updated: Thursday, March 11, 2010 - 10:59

Brasilia: Brazil`s president came under withering criticism on Wednesday at home and in Cuba for his deference to the island`s communist government over political prisoners and hunger strikes for human rights.

A Cuban dissident on hunger strike to demand the release of ailing political prisoners accused President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of complicity with "the tyranny of Castro”. Brazilian pundits also criticised Silva and a political ally called the president`s words disappointing.

In an interview with a news agency on Tuesday, Silva said that "we have to respect the decisions of the Cuban legal system and the government to arrest people depending on the laws of Cuba, like I want them to respect Brazil."

Silva said hunger strikes should not be used to free people from prison, despite the fact that he himself engaged in a hunger strike as a union leader during his resistance to Brazil`s military dictatorship.

Brazil`s media and critics focused most on a statement by Silva that they interpreted as comparing Cuba`s dissidents with criminals in Brazil`s largest city who run lucrative drug rings from behind bars and orchestrated a wave of killings on the streets in 2006.

"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 Sao Paulo entered into hunger strikes to demand freedom," Silva said in the interview.

In late February, Silva met in Cuba with Fidel and Raul Castro just hours after Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata died from a prolonged hunger strike.

At the time, Silva told Brazil`s privately run Agencia Estado news agency that he "deeply regretted" Zapata`s death. Silva did not meet with opposition groups in Cuba.

Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, who started his twenty-third hunger strike the day after Zapata`s death, says Silva should take a stand against Cuba`s regime instead of stating he had to respect the government`s decisions.

"With that statement, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva shows his commitment to the tyranny of Castro and his contempt for the political prisoners and their families," Farinas said in an interview with columnist Flavia Marreiro of Brazil`s Folha de S Paulo newspaper. "A majority of the Cuban people feel betrayed by a president who was once a political prisoner."

Silva led worker strikes against Brazil`s military regime and was imprisoned for 31 days in 1980 for his political activities.

"I`ve been on hunger strikes and I would never do it again," Silva said. "I think it`s insane to mistreat your own body."

Silva also said he thought there was hypocrisy at play in the criticism of Cuba.

"It`s not just in Cuba that people died from hunger strikes," he said.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, March 11, 2010 - 10:59

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