Saturday, May 29, 2010

Eastern Market Physician, Please Contact me, Movement on Cuban Political Prisoners

This post is reaching out to the young physician, mother of small children, visiting Eastern Market today. I’d sold all the books I'd brought, but told her a little about my book and about the Honduras medical brigades of International Health Service of Minnesota. She sounded as though she might be interested in participating, but I failed to get her name and contact information. She spoke some Spanish. She said she worked in a city clinic offering services to low-income Latino patients, but I don’t recall the name. I gave her a card for my book, showing this website address, so I do hope she will log on, see this appeal, and get back to me via my e-mail address, shown above. I was in a rush because my brother had just come into town, visiting from Florida.

Doctora, I’d like to tell you more about the brigade and you can read about it here and see photos, by going back to April 12. It takes some patience, clicking always on “older post,” to see all the photos from that trip and, before that, a narrative. ( I need a class in blogging!) So, please e-mail me if you see this notice—no obligation to attend an IHS brigade, I’d just like to tell you more about it. Sometimes, volunteers come for less than 10 days. This year, the dentists stayed only one week, for example.

With all quiet on the Honduras political front, this blog has turned temporarily almost into a Cuba blog because of events occurring there, Cuba being another country that I've visited several times and that's close to my heart.
Human Rights Watch researcher and a co-author recently wrote a candid report on a Cuba visit published in the New York Review of Books.
Since I published something on Cuba in that same review years ago, I can attest to the close, word-by-word, vetting of anything that goes into that publication.

Cuba to transfer political prisoners
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO, May. 24, 2010

The Cuban government has promised to move sick political prisoners to hospitals, and other jailed dissidents closer to home, in a stunning concession to the recent avalanche of criticisms of its human rights record, an independent journalist said Sunday.

Guillermo Fariñas, who has been on a lengthy hunger strike demanding the release of 26 ailing political prisoners, said Havana Auxiliary Bishop Juan de Dios Hernández told him the changes would begin Monday, and that eventually some jailed dissidents could be freed.
Catholic church officials have been regularly keeping Fariñas and the Ladies in White protesters abreast of their negotiations with Cuban leader Raúl Castro on the fate of the political prisoners, currently estimated at about 190.

Cuba’s government remained silent on Fariñas’ comments, but Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez said he had received reports from jailed dissidents that prison directors already had told some inmates to pack their personal items. The government’s gesture toward the prisoners, if true, would mark a rare gesture of good will by Cuba’s communist rulers, who are facing a barrage of domestic and foreign attacks on the country’s human rights record sparked by the February death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata after a nearly three-month hunger strike.

Fariñas told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from his hospital bed in Santa Clara, where he has been receiving intravenous nutrition to make up for his refusal to eat or drink, that Hernández gave him the information during a visit Saturday. Hernández told him that Homero Acosta, executive secretary of the ruling Council of State, telephoned church officials Friday and told them the government would begin on Monday to shift all the seriously ill jailed dissidents to hospitals, and others to prisons closer to their homes, Fariñas added.

Fariñas has been demanding the release of 26 political prisoners he says are so ill that they require hospitalization, but he said a separate church list of ailing prisoners of conscience contained 37 names.

Among the 190 political prisoners are 53 of the 75 dissidents sentenced to long prison terms in a 2003 crackdown known as Cuba’s Black Spring. Twenty-two of the 75 have been released, mostly for health reasons, and 17 of those still jailed are in prisons far from their families, Fariñas said. Hernández also said that Castro and Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who met for four hours last week, expect to meet again late this week “to discuss the release of some political prisoners,” according to Fariñas.

An Associated Press dispatch quoted Orlando Marquez, spokesman for the Havana archdiocese, as confirming that government officials had told the church that some prisoners would be moved to jails near home, but giving no further details.

One senior church official in Havana told El Nuevo Herald that he could not confirm all the details that Fariñas said he had obtained from Hernández, but added: “Wait for Monday.”
Fariñas said the Castro government’s decision to improve its treatment of jailed dissidents was “an attempt to dampen” the recent torrent of criticism of its human rights record that included strongly worded statements from European and Latin American leftists who traditionally support the island’s policies.“They don’t want to give credit to the peaceful opposition at home,” he said, referring to the Ladies in White’s Sunday protest marches and his hunger strike. “So they are negotiating with the church.”

Fidel Castro’s government freed about 300 political and common prisoners shortly after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998, when he urged officials to release dissidents jailed only for publicly criticizing the regime. Cuban officials regularly deny the country has any political prisoners, and brands them as “mercenaries” who have accepted U.S. funds to work toward undermining or overthrowing the government.

Elizardo Sánchez said he remained skeptical of the government’s intentions, and described the apparent agreement to ease the conditions of some political prisoners as a “mere gesture of condescension.”

Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler said church officials had told her group only that Ortega had asked Raúl Castro to move the ailing political prisoners to hospitals and the others to prisons in their home provinces. “We were not told of any answers, but we are full of faith and hope,” she told El Nuevo Herald from Havana. “We hope that the answers will be positive.”
Fariñas, a 42-year-old psychologist and independent journalist, has lost more than 70 pounds since he launched his hunger strike Feb. 23, one day after Zapata died. A third dissident has vowed to refuse all food and drink should Fariñas die.

Although Raúl Castro had hinted that his government would allow Fariñas to die, saying it would not bow to “blackmail,” the dissident has been treated in an intensive-care ward of a government hospital, and is regularly allowed to give interviews to foreign reporters on the hospital’s phone.

He also has allowed the Ladies in White, so called because they wear all-white clothes, to stage their usual Sunday protest marches in Havana for the past three weeks, after several weeks in which State Security officials and government-organized mobs forced them to call of their protests.

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