Ladies in White
Cuba to move prisoners, treat the sick: hunger striker
Sun May 23, 3:51 am ET

HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba’s government will begin moving political prisoners to jails in their home provinces and provide the sickest inmates with treatment, a on a three-month hunger strike said.

The decision appears to be a step towards Guillermo Farina’s demand for 26 sick detainees to be freeed before ending his hunger strike, which is a source of deep embarrassment for ’s government.

Farinas, an opposition , told AFP by telephone that Havana’s Auxiliary Bishop Juan de Dios Hernandez informed him of the communist government’s decision during a visit to his bedside Saturday.

Roman Catholic Church officials have been negotiating with the government on behalf of Farinas.

Speaking by telephone from his hospital bed, the 48-year-old Farinas said Hernandez told him Cabinet Secretary Homero Acosta had called Cardinal Jaime Ortega to tell him of the government’s decision.

A church official who requested anonymity confirmed Farinas’ statement to AFP and said that the transfer involved 15-18 prisoners.

Farinas had earlier told AFP: “When the number of (political prisoners) released reaches 10 and the Church tells me there is a timeline for others to be freed, I will end my strike.”

In Farinas’ account, Acosta called Ortega “to tell him that, as of Monday, the political prisoners jailed outside their home provinces would start being transferred back to them, so they can be closer to their families, and that those who are sick will be admitted” to hospitals.

“This is what the Church calls previous (initial) steps to the petition they made. The situation now is to wait to see if they carry through,” Farinas said.

He said Saturday’s announcement was the outcome of a meeting Thursday between Castro, Ortega and Episcopal Conference leader Archbishop Dionisio Garcia — Castro’s first with top church officials since he replaced his brother Fidel as president four years ago.

According to Farinas, the cardinal also said another meeting to discuss possible releases of prisoners could take place late next week.

An opposition journalist, Farinas began his 23rd hunger strike since 1995 — denying both and water — the day after leading Cuban dissident Orlando died on February 23 following an 85-day hunger strike.

He is currently in Santa Clara hospital in central Cuba, where he has been treated with an IV drip since March 11.

Earlier Saturday, Farinas said his was declining and was likely suffering from kidney stones and a cyst in the left kidney.

He also said that Church officials had agreed that “the government must take the first step, which must be the release of prisoners.”

Dissident groups say there are more than 200 political prisoners held in Cuban jails. Amnesty International considers 65 of them as prisoners of conscience.

Cuba denies it holds any political prisoners and calls dissidents “mercenaries” funded by the United States and a conservative Cuban-American “mafia.”

The Catholic Church has been pressing Castro’s regime on the issue of political prisoners without, however, resorting to confrontation.

It recently persuaded authorities to drop a ban on a group of wives and female relatives of jailed dissidents known as the Ladies in White holding a public march calling for their loved ones to be released.…

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