EU condemns Cuba for rights violations

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STRASBOURG, France – The European Parliament voted Thursday to condemn Cuba for the "avoidable and cruel" death of a dissident hunger striker, earning a stinging response from Havana, which said it did not appreciate the lecture and would not respond to international pressure.

The European assembly called on Cuba to immediately release its political prisoners and urged Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign and security affairs chief, to push the totalitarian, Communist-run island toward a peaceful transition to multiparty democracy.

The vote, adopted 509-30 with 14 abstentions, follows the Feb. 23 death of jailed Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who succumbed after an 83-day hunger strike.

Another opposition member, freelance journalist Guillermo Farinas, has been on his own hunger strike since Feb. 24.

Farinas lost consciousness Thursday and was rushed to the hospital in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara on Thursday, his second trip to the hospital since he began the fast.

Licet Zamora said Farinas passed out just after midday. On the seventh day of his fast, Farinas also passed out and was taken to the hospital, where doctors hooked him up to an IV and administered eight liters of fluids and nutrients.

Farinas says he will continue the protest until his death unless Cuban President Raul Castro's government agrees to release 26 ailing political prisoners.

The EU parliament said it was particularly concerned about Farinas, calling his condition "alarming."

"We cannot afford another death in Cuba. We call for the immediate release of all political prisoners," Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European assembly, said.

Buzek said Cuba has ignored appeals for increased democracy from around the world.

The Caribbean island has been ruled by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro since they ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. There are some 200 political prisoners in Cuban jails, according to human rights groups.

"We need action," said Buzek. "The Cuban government must respect fundamental freedoms, especially the freedom of expression and political association. Freedom of movement must also be respected."

Cuba, which had hoped for improved relations with Europe following Spain's ascension to the EU presidency in January, blasted the EU vote as hypocritical and wrong.

"Following a sullied debate, the European Parliament has just passed a condemnation resolution against our country, manipulating sentiments, distorting facts, deceiving people and obscuring reality," Cuba's National Parliament declared in a statement later Thursday.

"Cubans find it offensive this attempt at teaching us lessons," the parliamentary declaration continued.

It said Europe was in no position to judge Cuba given Europe's poor treatment of immigrants and the unemployed and its alleged complicity with America's treatment of al-Qaida terror suspects.

Cuba "rejects impositions, intolerance and pressure" from abroad, the Cuban parliament statement said.

The Cuban government considers the dissidents to be paid stooges of Washington, and says most — including both Zapata Tamayo and Farinas — are common criminals.

In Brazil, presidential spokesman Marcelo Baumbach said Thursday the government had received a letter from imprisoned Cuban dissidents asking President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to intercede with Raul Castro to revise their sentences.

Baumbach said Silva had not read the letter. It was unclear when the letter arrived.

The five-page letter was signed by 50 Cuban dissidents who asked for Silva's help in get their sentences reduced.

Baumbach confirmed receipt of the letter two days after Silva told the AP: "I don't think a hunger strike can be used as a pretext for human rights to free people. Imagine if all the criminals in Sao Paulo entered into hunger strikes to demand freedom."

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