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Prominent Cuban dissident hospitalized after arrest

A well-known Cuban dissident was hospitalized with chest pains on Friday evening after being arrested earlier in the day while leading a small demonstration in central Cuba, his mother said.
Image: Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas is detained by security forces in Santa Clara
Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, detained by security forces in Santa Clara, Villaclara province in central Cuba, was hospitalized with chest pains Friday evening.Enrique De La Osa / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

A well-known Cuban dissident was hospitalized with chest pains on Friday evening after being arrested earlier in the day while leading a small demonstration in central Cuba, his mother said.

Guillermo Farinas and about 15 associates were arrested as they marched in Santa Clara toward a statue of national independence hero Jose Marti on Friday afternoon, where they planned to place flowers to mark the 158th anniversary of his birth.

It was the third time in as many days they were detained for mounting peaceful protests.

"(Farinas) had chest pains and is under observation at the Arnaldo Millan hospital," the dissident's mother, Alicia Hernandez, told Reuters in a telephone interview before leaving to see him.

There was no more information available on his condition.

Farinas, 49, a psychologist and writer, gained international attention last year by staging a 135-day hunger strike to demand improved treatment for political prisoners and the release of those he said were ill. He suffers from epilepsy and has had other health problems.

His hunger strike followed the death of imprisoned fellow hunger striker Orlando Zapata. Farinas was eventually hospitalized and fed intravenously but refused to take any solid food until Cuba began to release political prisoners as part of an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church and Spain.

Farinas, the winner last year of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, was arrested and held for six hours on Wednesday when he and other activists tried to stop the eviction of a family from an abandoned building.

They were arrested again on Thursday as they marched to a local police station where three associates, picked up that morning, were being held.

After being released on Friday morning, Farinas said he and his fellow activists would march again later in the day, ignoring warnings they would be arrested.

"I told them (the police) we planned to go out with flowers for Marti and they said they would arrest us for a third time," Farinas said in a telephone interview soon after his release.

He said the protests were aimed at the dire economic and social situation in the communist-led country, which in recent years has endured hurricanes, the international financial crisis and economic management problems.

"They (the local authorities) said ... they were not going to let us do anything on the street. In reality, they are scared the people will go into the streets," Farinas said.

Cuba's leading human rights organization charged earlier this week that while the government was releasing some political prisoners, it had stepped up harassment of opponents.

The illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said that while 41 of 53 prisoners of conscience listed by Amnesty International had been released in recent months, all but one into exile in Spain, hundreds of government opponents had been detained temporarily.