Jailed Cuba Foe Ends Hunger Strike

By Anita Snow
Associated Press Writer
Saturday, September 4, 1999; 10:07 p.m. EDT

HAVANA (AP) -- Jailed opposition leader Marta Beatriz Roque ended a hunger strike Saturday, pledging to resume it if she doesn't soon get a response to a sentencing appeal, a colleague said.

``She is now talking, she is drinking water, she is eating,'' Ileana Someillan said.

Roque was hospitalized for much of the liquids-only fast that she began on July 16. She began a complete hunger strike on Thursday. Someillan said she suffered from severe gastrointestinal problems and recently had begun fainting frequently.

After meeting with government security agents, Roque agreed to lift the hunger protest. Roque will remain in the jail's hospital until she's well enough to return to a regular jail.

Roque and three other leading political opponents of the Castro regime were arrested in July 1997 for criticizing a Communist Party document. They also were accused of encouraging Cubans not to vote in 1997 elections, exhorting foreign businessmen not to invest in Cuba and asking Cuban exiles to encourage their kin on the island to engage in acts of civil disobedience.

After a closed-door trial that drew international criticism and calls for their release, the four were convicted and sentenced in March.

Roque, an economist, was ordered to serve 3 1/2 years in prison. Lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano and engineer Felix Bonne were given four years each. Vladirimo Roca, a former military fighter pilot and son of a revered Communist Party leader, was sentenced to five years.

The ruling damaged relations that Cuba has worked to improve with other nations, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America. The United States, Canada, the Vatican and several European nations have urged Cuba to free the four dissidents.

Several heads of state -- including those of Argentina and Chile -- have announced that they would not attend the Ibero American summit, to be held in Havana in mid-November, in part because of Cuba's human rights record.

Cuban officials insist there are no political prisoners on this island nation of 11 million people, only those jailed for common crimes. They reject the characterization of the four dissidents as prisoners of conscience.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press