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'Iron Lady' of Cuban dissident goes on hunger strike

12 september 2012, 10:21
Marta Beatriz Roque, the 67 year-old "Iron Lady" of Cuban dissidents, began a hunger strike Monday to protest conditions that opponents to the Communist regime face on the island, AFP reports.

"I have declared a hunger strike" against the government's "intolerable and untenable" treatment of the opposition, Roque told AFP.

Roque, an economist and former university professor who began her opposition activity in 1989, was the only woman among the 75 activists arrested and given long prison sentences in a high-profile 2003 crackdown.

She was released in 2004 for health reasons.

Roque, who suffers from diabetes, began fasting at her Havana home and said she will drink only water and not accept assistance for "any official doctor" if she suffers a sudden drop in blood sugar, a situation known as hypoglycemia.

"I estimate that this will last 48 hours" before suffering serious health problems, Roque told AFP. "Let events unfold as they may."

Roque said that 13 other dissidents would begin similar protests in other parts of the island.

The "conditions Roque is protesting include the repeated arrest of Cuban dissidents, as well as the case of Jorge Vazquez Chaviano, a dissident held in jail for the past six months even though a court overturned his sentence.

Every month, Cuban police arrest hundreds of political opponents -- 521 in August alone -- and then release them without charge, sometimes after hours, or sometimes after days, according to dissident leaders.

"The political police has increased the level of repression against the opposition and that is something that we cannot allow," said Roque.

The Cuban government claims that dissidents are "mercenaries" working for the US government.

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