Farinas ends hunger strike in Cuba

Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas Thursday suspended a 135-day hunger strike that had put him on the edge of death, and the Catholic Church identified the first political prisoners who will be freed as a result of unparalleled talks with the government of Cuba.

Although the church named five political prisoners, there was no announcement that they had actually been released, and Cuba observers remained split between hope for long-term improvements in the island's human rights record and concern that the government could easily jail a new group of dissidents.

The five prisoners who will be allowed to leave for Spain are Antonio Villarreal Acosta, Lester Gonzalez Penton, Luis Milan Fernandez, Jose Luis Garcia Paneque and Pablo Pacheco, according to a church statement. It did not clarify whether the five had asked to leave the island.

Farinas, 48, a psychiatrist and independent journalist, became a rallying point for human rights activists in Cuba and abroad after he stopped eating and drinking on Feb. 24 to highlight a demand for the release of 26 political prisoners reported to be in ill health.

A former member of an elite Interior Ministry paramilitary unit who fought in Angola, Farinas lost about 50 pounds and suffered various health issues during 23 previous hunger strikes, including a seven-month protest to demand Internet access.

His latest protest, the only one in which he also refused to take liquids, drove him to the edge of death with several infections from the catheter through which he received nourishment after the government took him to a hospital. Last week he developed a blood clot near the catheter that left him in critical condition.

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