Page last updated at 09:44 GMT, Monday, 5 April 2010 10:44 UK

Raul Castro: Cuba will resist hunger strike blackmail

Raul Castro addresses the Young Communist League
Raul Castro: Cuba will never yield to any country or group of countries

Cuban President Raul Castro has attacked international criticism over hunger-striking dissidents, saying Cuba will "never cede to blackmail".

Mr Castro said the US and Europe were using Western media to wage "a ferocious campaign" to discredit Cuba.

Cuba has been under growing pressure to release political prisoners and improve its human rights since a dissident died in February after a long hunger strike.

Another dissident has been refusing to eat or drink for more than a month.

In a speech to the annual congress of the Young Communist League, President Castro said his government had the right to resist efforts to destabilise it.

"We will never yield to the blackmail of any country or group of countries, no matter how powerful they may be, no matter what happens," he said.

"We have the right to defend ourselves."


The human rights situation in Cuba has been the focus of renewed international attention since the death in jail of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February, the first such death of a dissident in nearly 40 years.

The 42-year-old was arrested in March 2003 in a crackdown against opposition activists.

Mr Zapata, who was declared a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International, had refused food for nearly three months in protest at jail conditions.

Another dissident, Guillermo Farinas, began his hunger strike shortly after Mr Zapata died. He is now in hospital, being fed intravenously.

"We are doing what we can to save his life," Mr Castro said without referring to Mr Farinas by name.

"But if he does not change his own self-destructive stance, he will be responsible, along with those who back him, for an outcome which we too do not wish to happen," said President Castro, who officially took over from his brother Fidel in 2008.

The Havana government denies there are any political prisoners, saying they are "mercenaries" paid by the US to try to undermine the Cuban system.

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