Cuban hunger striker's condition reportedly worseA Cuban political prisoner who has been on a hunger strike since December is ``worsening slowly'' despite a hospital's decision to feed him through intravenous tubes, relatives and others said Tuesday.
Orlando Zapata is ``skin and bones, his stomach is just a hole'' and he has bedsores on his legs, said his mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo. He has lost so much weight that nurses were not able to get the IV lines into his arms and are using veins on his neck instead.
``They are feeding him through the IVs because he continues to refuse to eat on his own, but his situation continues worsening slowly,'' said human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz in a telephone interview from Havana.
Zapata, 42, has been refusing to eat and drinking water only occasionally since December to protest the brutal conditions at his Kilo 7 prison in the eastern province of Camagüey, according to his mother. Prison guards beat him at least three times in the days before he launched the hunger strike, his mother said, and his back was ``tattooed with blows'' by the time he was transferred recently to the Amalia Simony hospital in Camagüey.
``The authorities tell us that he is stable, within the parameters of his grave condition,'' she told El Nuevo Herald in a phone interview, adding that on Tuesday she was given permission to visit him every day for several hours. She had last seen him on Saturday.
``I will continue in this struggle until the seas dry up,'' she declared to supporters in Miami. ``I hold the Cuban government and the organs of State Security responsible if anything happens to my son, or to one of the brothers who is supporting us.''
ARRESTED IN 2003
Zapata, a plumber and bricklayer and member of the Alternative Republican Movement National Civic Resistance Committee, was arrested in 2003 amid a harsh crackdown on dissidents, known as Cuba's Black Spring, that sentenced 75 government critics to long prison terms.
He was initially charged with contempt, public disorder and ``disobedience,'' and sentenced to three years.
But he was later convicted of other acts of defiance while in prison and now stands sentenced to a total of 36 years.
Amnesty International declared him a ``prisoner of conscience'' in 2003.
Zapata's case has sparked several street protests by government critics, including some in Camagüey last week during which police detained some 35 people for periods ranging from hours to several days.
Some of the detainees complained they were beaten during the round ups, and others used their cell phones to take photographs inside their crowded holding cells.
The photos were later sent to supporters abroad.