Brazil's Lula criticised for Cuba dissidents comment
News from Cuba | Thursday, 11 March 2010
from BBC News website
Lula says he believed some criticism of Cuba was hypocritical
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been criticised for comments in which he appeared to compare Cuban dissidents to common criminals.
He told the AP news agency that hunger strikes, which some dissidents have staged, were not a pretext for release.
"Imagine if all the criminals in Sao Paulo went on hunger strike to demand freedom," President Lula said.
Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, who is on hunger strike, said he felt betrayed by Lula's comments.
Mr Farinas, 48, has been staging his protest for the past fortnight to seek the release of ailing political prisoners from Cuban jails.
He began his action after jailed dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who had been on hunger strike for several weeks, died last month. His death provoked widespread international condemnation and calls for the release of all Cuba's detained political dissidents.
The Cuban government has said it will not bow to what it calls the "blackmail" of hunger strikes.
The Cuban government says it will not bow to pressure from Mr Farinas
In the AP interview, President Lula, who visited Cuba last month, said hunger strikes should not be used as a pretext to press for release from prison.
"We have to respect the decisions of the Cuban legal system and the government to arrest people on the laws of Cuba, like I want them to respect Brazil," said Lula, who himself was a political activist against Brazil's military government in the 1970s and 1980s.
"I've been on hunger strikes and I would never do it again. I think it's insane to mistreat your own body."
Lula said he believed there was hypocrisy involved in the criticism of Cuba: "It's not just in Cuba that people died from hunger strikes."
Mr Farinas told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo that President Lula's comments showed "his commitment to the tyranny of Castro and his contempt for political prisoners and their families".
"A majority of the Cuban people feel betrayed by a president who was once a political prisoner."
The Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) said Lula's comments aimed to trivialise hunger strikes, which were a symbol of resistance to authoritarian regimes.
"It would be better for the Brazilian government to concern itself with the dreadful prison conditions in which (dissidents) are held," said the association's president, Ophir Cavalcante.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim supported Lula's comments.
"It's one thing to defend democracy, human rights, the right to free speech. it's another thing to be supporting everything that is dissident in the world. That is not (our) role," he said.
Mr Amorim said real change in Cuba was in the hands of the US.
"If someone is interested in creating political evolution in Cuba, I have a quick prescription: End the embargo."
Cuba's illegal but tolerated Human Rights Commission says there are about 200 political prisoners still held in Cuba, about one-third fewer than when Raul Castro took over as president from his brother Fidel.