Cuban hunger striker rejects Spanish offer
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban hunger striker Guillermo Farinas on Monday rejected the Spanish government's latest offer to take him to Spain to head off another dissident death that could worsen Cuba's relations with the international community.
Some of his fellow Cuban dissidents have asked the European Union and Latin American countries to beseech Farinas, 48, to end his protest, but he says he is prepared to die if the Cuban government does not meet his demand to release 26 ailing political prisoners.
Farinas, a psychologist and writer, launched his hunger strike on February 24, a day after dissident prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died following an 85-day hunger strike for improved prison conditions.
He has been in a hospital in his hometown of Santa Clara, 170 miles southeast of Havana, receiving fluids intravenously since collapsing on March 11. His condition is said to be weak, but stable.
A Spanish diplomat offered over the weekend to send Farinas to Spain by air ambulance, Farinas' mother, Alicia Hernandez, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"He said he appreciated the offer, but he did not want to be exiled to Spain," she said.
A Spanish Embassy spokesman declined to comment.
Zapata's death brought international condemnation of Cuba, which said it provided him the best care possible, and calls for the communist-led island to release its estimated 200 political prisoners.
Reportedly at Havana's request, the Spaniards, who currently lead the 27-nation EU, tried before to persuade Farinas to go to Spain, but he turned them down.
The latest offer followed requests last week from Cuban dissidents, who have said they do not support hunger strikes, said western diplomats in the Cuban capital.
Elizardo Sanchez, of the independent Cuban Human Rights Commission, said his group has encouraged "discreet diplomatic gestures" by European Union and Latin American countries to end Farinas' strike.
Farinas has refused both food and liquids during his protest and has collapsed twice since it began.
Cuban officials and doctors have urged him to abandon the hunger strike and are keeping him in the hospital for treatment.
Farinas has conducted 22 previous hunger strikes which have taken a toll on his body.
His mother said he suffered a high fever over the weekend, but was feeling better on Monday.
Cuban leaders view dissidents as U.S.-backed subversives trying to topple the Cuban government.
At least two other dissidents are known to have begun hunger strikes after Farinas, and the dissident group "Ladies in White" held marches for a week to mark the anniversary of the arrest of 75 government opponents on March 18, 2003.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Jeff Franks and Mohammad Zargham)