Two dissidents start hunger strike in Cuba

The two high-profile Cuban dissidents had rejected a deal for foreign exile.

Updated: Feb 03, 2011, 10:44 AM IST

Havana: Two of the 11 high-profile Cuban political dissidents who rejected a deal for foreign exile have begun a hunger strike, an opposition group said on Wednesday.

The move came as the Catholic Church said Cuba would release four other prisoners charged with piracy and send them to Spain.

The hunger strikers are part of a group of 52 political detainees who were to be freed in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church with President Raul Castro in July.

Of the group, 40 agreed to emigrate to Spain with their families and one stayed in Cuba, but the remaining 11 are still in jail and refuse to be exiled.

The agreed-upon deadline for their release expired on November 07.

Elizardo Sanchez, member of an illegal but tolerated human rights group, identified the hunger strikers as Diosdado Gonzalez and Pedro Arguelles -- both Amnesty International prisoners of conscience.

The two, who began their hunger strike on Tuesday, have turned down the offer to move to Spain and are demanding to be released in Cuba.

They began their hunger strike in solidarity with Gonzalez`s wife Alejandrina Garcia, who has only been drinking water since Friday.

"I will not stop this hunger strike until he is released," Garcia said in a phone call from her home in the town of Perico, in Matanzas province, 170 kilometres (105 miles) east of Havana.

"The government has made a mockery of these 11 men," she said.

Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White -- a group of female relatives of the jailed dissidents -- visited Garcia, a 44 year-old agronomist, on Wednesday. She said she failed to dissuade her from starting the hunger strike.

"The government has raised false expectations, because it said that everyone in the group would be released including those who reject leaving the country, but that has all been a lie," said Pollan.

Pollan`s husband Hector Maseda is one of the jailed dissidents.

The four prisoners heading to Spain face piracy charges and do not belong to the original group of 52, according to a note from the office of the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

According to Sanchez, the men are accused of using violence in an attempt to hijack vessels in failed attempts to flee Cuba, as well as other acts of violence.

"We are happy about to learn about the prison releases, but the government is using Spain`s open door to get rid of prisoners that are bothersome, while 11 prisoners of conscience remain in prison," Sanchez said.

Dissident sources say around 100 political prisoners remain jailed in Cuba.

Bureau Report