Cuban dissidents end hunger strike, saying state to free opponent

HAVANA Tue Sep 18, 2012 10:33pm EDT

Cuban dissident Marta Beatriz Roque sleeps during a hunger strike in her house in Havana September 14, 2012. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

Cuban dissident Marta Beatriz Roque sleeps during a hunger strike in her house in Havana September 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Enrique De La Osa

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HAVANA (Reuters) - Prominent Cuban dissident Marta Beatriz Roque and 29 others ended an eight-day hunger strike and declared victory on Tuesday when they said Cuban authorities would free a jailed opposition member whose release they had demanded.

The dissidents said state security agents informed the wife of Jorge Vazquez Chaviano he would be released shortly from a prison in Santa Clara, 160 miles east of Havana.

The Cuban government did not immediately confirm or comment on his release.

"We view (his release) as a victory for the opposition and legality has been re-established in this case," Idania Yanes, spokeswoman for the strikers, told Reuters.

Vazquez Chaviano, previously a little known dissident, has been behind bars for more than a year for "illegal economic activities" and was supposed to be released on September 9, dissidents had said.

But the government continued to hold him, which touched off the hunger strike on September 10 by the 67-year-old Roque and 12 others. More sympathizers joined in, swelling the number of strikers to 30, Yanes told Reuters.

Roque, an economist who became a dissident in 1989 and for years was one of the opposition's most visible leaders, was not immediately available for comment, but Yanes said she was in her Havana home drinking chamomile tea.

Roque had vowed to drink only water and eat nothing until Vazquez Chaviano was released. She also refused to take any medication for what she said was chronic diabetes and in recent days had grown weak.

The Cuban government considers dissidents to be "mercenaries" of the United States, its longtime ideological foe.

When Roque announced the hunger strike, she said she wanted to bring attention to what she viewed as increasing government persecution of dissidents. "What the government is doing is impossible to put up with," she had told reporters. "Each day the situation is worse."

Hunger strikes have been a common tactic by dissidents to get international attention.

In 2010, the Cuban government drew international condemnation when imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 42, died after an 85-day hunger strike.

President Raul Castro said he was a common criminal, not a political prisoner.

(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes, Editing by Kevin Gray and Philip Barbara)

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