Spain to press Cuba over jailed dissidents

Guillermo Farinas at home in Santa Clara in March 2010
Image caption Mr Farinas has been refusing food since February and is now very ill

Spain's foreign minister plans to increase pressure on Cuba to release political prisoners.

Miguel Angel Moratinos said he was going to Havana to support negotiations between the Catholic Church and Cuba's communist authorities.

Spanish diplomats told the BBC there were indications the talks could lead to a substantial release of prisoners.

According to an unofficial rights group, the number of political prisoners has dropped to 167.

The Cuban Human Rights Commission said that another 800 people had been detained this year, and then released without charge.

It also said that the reduction in prisoners reflected an increase in harassment and intimidation, instead of prison sentences.

Cuban denial

Mr Moratinos will discuss human rights with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez and the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

"I'm going to work to support the efforts and obtain results, and that is therefore my goal," Mr Moratinos said.

Mr Moratinos does not plan to meet Guillermo Farinas, 48, a prisoner who has been refusing food since February. Doctors treating him say his life is in danger.

He is being fed intravenously in hospital, but doctors say he has developed a blood clot that could kill him.

The news was reported in Cuban state media, which usually ignore dissident protests.

Mr Farinas is a psychologist who works as a freelance journalist reporting on Cuba in defiance of state media controls.

In February another dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died while on hunger strike in jail.

Cuba denies there are political prisoners on the island, saying jailed dissidents are common criminals or "mercenaries" working for the US.

Mr Moratinos said Spanish diplomats had visited Mr Farinas on several occasions and "we've been concerned about his state of health".

"We want him to end the hunger strike because I believe that the whole international community already knows his goal of presenting and representing the situation in Cuba," he said.

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