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More Cuban political prisoners refusing food in hunger strikes

Egberto Angel Escobedo completed his 17th year in a Cuban prison last Friday, and his 56th day of a hunger strike.

He's at a penitentiary called "Red Ceramic" in Camaguey, where the military keeps him in isolation to prevent other inmates from spreading word of his failing health.

Escobedo is one of at least five cases of political prisoners — down from seven — who are refusing food, in what experts say is an extraordinary surge of inmates at different Cuban lockups fighting over different causes. Protesting everything from medical care to prison uniforms, they are using an age-old technique that over the years has met with mixed results.

"I don't recall at least in the last decade seeing so many people in jail on a hunger strike,'' said former political prisoner Ricardo Bofill, who served two stints totaling 15 years. "There is a political context that contributes to all this. They perceive that this is the moment to pressure the government, that there is momentum.''

Some protesters, like prisoner Diosdado Gonzalez, quickly have their demands met. His wife's sympathy hunger strike lasted just a day. A dozen other prisoners over the decades, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo four months ago, died.

Experts say the current strikes, likely fueled by Zapata's death, were uncoordinated, spontaneous and far from unprecedented.

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