HAVANA Prominent Cuban dissident Marta Beatriz Roque began a hunger strike on Monday along with 12 others to bring attention to what she described as the government's persecution of its opponents.
She accused the government of conducting a vicious campaign of attacks and harassment against dissidents that has worsened in recent months.
Roque, who is 67, vowed to refuse medications and to only drink water, which could bring a quick death, she said, because she suffers from diabetes.
"What the government is doing is impossible to put up with," said Roque, who was among 75 dissidents imprisoned in a 2003 crackdown on the opposition that drew international condemnation.
She was sentenced to 20 years in prison for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state," but was released on parole the following year due to health problems.
Under President Raul Castro, authorities have not been sending dissidents to jail for long terms, but harass and intimidate them with brief detentions and assaults, government opponents say.
Roque, an economist who became a dissident in 1989 and for years was one of the opposition's most visible leaders, told Reuters she hoped her hunger strike would draw international attention and force the government to stop harassing opponents.
"Each day the situation is worse. Because of that, I have decided from this moment to declare myself on a hunger strike," she said.
She also demanded the freeing of Jorge Vazquez Chaviano, who she said was a dissident who was denied release on Monday despite completing a year-long sentence for economic crimes. Vazquez is among those joining her hunger strike.
The Cuban government views dissidents as "mercenaries" for its long-time ideological enemy, the United States.
The island's opposition is small, but gets support from the United States and other countries.
Hunger strikes have been a common tactic by opponents to try to garner international support.
In 2010, imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 42, died after an 85-day hunger strike, which brought international condemnation and contributed to Castro's decision to free political prisoners, including those still jailed from the 2003 crackdown, later that year in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church.
(Reporting By Jeff Franks and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Sandra Maler)