The number of Cuban dissidents who have gone on a hunger strike to demand the release of a political prisoner has grown from 13 to 21 since Monday, sources have told the Efe news agency.
The strike was initiated this week in Havana by dissident Marta Beatriz Roque, a member of the so-called opposition Group of 75, to protest the refusal of the government of Raúl Castro to release Jorge Vázquez, who was due to be freed on Sunday after serving a six-month prison term.
According to sources close to Roque, 12 of the hunger strikers are at home and nine are in prison; three are women and 18 are men spread out in different cities across the Communist island.
In the past few years, hunger strikes by Cuban dissidents have been used to draw international attention to the Castro government's crackdowns on opponents. Journalist Guillermo Fariñas holds the record of holding most hunger strikes - 24 - with the most recent one lasting a week in June 2011.
In January of this year, Wilman Villar died in prison after refusing to eat for 50 days, and in February 2010, an 85-day hunger strike claimed the life of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who was also serving time in a Cuban prison.
In an interview, Roque, an economist, said that a water-only diet could kill her in 48 hours because she suffers from diabetes. "I could easily have a crisis if I keep this up," said the 67-year-old, who also holds Spanish nationality.
Roque is holed up in her home in the Havana neighborhood of La Víbora surrounded by supporters, including two nurses. She has refused medical attention and has pledged to keep up her protest until the end. "Her lips are dry, she has difficulty urinating, suffers from headaches and is in very delicate health. She can hardly speak," said Idania Yanes, one of the people monitoring her condition.
Roque was the only woman who was arrested during the so-called "Black Spring," a crackdown on Group of 75 dissidents which took place in 2003. A member of the opposition since 1998, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released in 2005 because of her delicate health.
Among the others who are taking part in the hunger strike, several also suffer from health problems, including Luis Enrique Santos, who only has one kidney, and Jorge Luis García, known as "Antúnez," who has a heart condition.