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MIAMI HERALD: Cuban jailers unstitch hunger-striker's mouth
By Frances Robles

After he went two weeks without food, Cuban authorities forced a political prisoner to end his hunger strike.

Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, 42, is a journalist serving 20 years at the Holguín Provincial Prison after being swept up in the 2003 crackdown on dissent. He began a hunger strike July 18 to demand that prison authorities transfer him to a facility closer to his home in Guantánamo province.

Many political prisoners in Cuba are serving time in facilities far from their homes, which forces their families to take days-long journeys to visit them. Herrera's teenage daughter died in a car accident earlier this year while making the trip to visit him.

Havana human-rights activist Juan Carlos González Leiva spoke to Herrera by telephone Tuesday and distributed a transcript of a statement from Herrera in a communiqué distributed Wednesday by the exile group Democratic Directorate. Herrera said that after two weeks of his strike, military and prison authorities subdued him July 31 and undid the sutures .

Former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as ''Antúnez,'' said prisoners routinely sew their mouths shut to protest poor prison food, lack of medical attention, and other issues.

''They find cables or wires laying around in the prison yard and strip it down like sugar cane so that it's sharp and not as rusty,'' García told The Miami Herald in a telephone interview from Villa Clara, in central Cuba.

''They insert in one end of the mouth and pull it to the other side of the mouth, wrapping it like three times,'' he said. ``It's now become a daily experience in Cuban prisons. I've seen it done dozens of times.''

'A common prisoner may do it as a protest against the wardens' indifference and silence. And a political prisoner might do it to show that he really is on a hunger strike,'' said García, who was freed last year after serving 17 years for denouncing the government and for escaping from prison to attend his mother's funeral. Three other prisoners who went on a hunger strike in support of Herrera -- Alfredo Rodolfo Domínguez Batista, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Luis Mariano Delís Utria -- ended their protests last week.

''I am letting the world know that I will not desist in my efforts to continue demanding respect for my trampled-upon rights, and that I will have recourse to the same method no matter the final outcome,'' Herrera said, according to a transcript of his telephoned statement. ``If I lose my life, the Cuban regime, and its blood-stained, repressive political police will be responsible. I will not stand by patiently or in a cowardly manner as the ever-ready torturers attempt to subjugate me through coercion and blackmail.''

Herrera once led the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, and then became an opposition journalist who chronicled prison conditions.

''Nobody wanted something terrible to happen to them,'' said Janisset Rivero of the Democratic Directorate. ``The psychology of hunger strikes is something very difficult to understand. The conditions they endure are very difficult.''

She said Herrera said his health was ''not good,'' but he did not have enough time on the telephone from prison to elaborate.

Last week, 22 people who had assembled outside the prison on Herrera's behalf were detained and sent home.

The French media-rights organization, Reporters Without Borders demanded Cuba free him, saying his precarious health provide humanitarian grounds for his release.

''I am keeping and will continue to keep my banner high,'' Herrera's statement said. ``The military officials employed many psychological techniques in an effort to make me abandon the position I had taken, but in the end that effort was in vain.''


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