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Cuba dissident ends protest fast amid health rumor

Cuba dissident ends protest fast amid health rumor
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ (AP) – 10 hours ago

HAVANA — A hunger strike by a Cuban dissident has been a hot story for
Miami-based Spanish-language media, and concern about her health even
reached the halls of the U.S. Congress, where an anti-Castro lawmaker
warned that she was "close to death."

But Martha Beatriz Roque's condition and the extent of her fast were not
clear until the 64-year-old appeared at a news conference in Havana on

The activist appeared unsteady but far from death. Her associates
clarified that she had only given up solid foods over the past eight
days — and, in any case, was calling off the protest.

Although Roque faced reporters, she refused to speak. A supporter read a
statement saying she was returning to a normal diet. Roque, wearing a
purple house dress over a light long-sleeve shirt, walked with a cane
and at times was steadied by a friend.

She and five other dissidents began a sit-in protest 40 days ago,
complaining that state security agents stole a camera from her. The
group said they stopped eating solid food last week.

On Monday, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Florida, said on
the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that Roque was "close to
death in Havana due to complications arising from a hunger strike."

Spanish-language media in Miami followed Roque's protest closely, with
many in the Cuban-American community expressing outrage. Diaz-Balart
accused the international press of ignoring the story.

Despite such interest, Roque and the island's other dissidents are
largely unknown inside Cuba and enjoy virtually no public following.
Cuba's government, which tolerates no organized opposition to its
single-party communist system, severely limits freedom of expression and
controls all media. It says dissidents are agents of Washington working
to undermine the government.

Roque is a state-trained economist who has been an open critic of Cuba's
government for more than 20 years. She was arrested and imprisoned as
part of a crackdown on dissident in 2003 but granted parole for health
reasons after a bit more than a year. She can, however, be returned to
prison at any time for violating the conditions of her parole.

Of the 75 activists jailed in what opposition leaders call the "Black
Spring," 55 remain imprisoned.

The independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National
Reconciliation says more than 200 political prisoners are being held in

The Associated Press: Cuba dissident ends protest fast amid health rumor
(18 November 2009)

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