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Cuba dissident Farinas finally picks up 2010 Sakharov prize

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Saying "Cuba will be free", dissident Guillermo Farinas on Wednesday finally picked up the European Union's prestigious Sakharov human rights prize -- three years after winning the award.

"This fist held high means there will one day be democracy in Cuba," Farinas told the packed European Parliament to a standing ovation as he dedicated the prize to his mother, who also attended the ceremony.

Farinas, who has staged 23 hunger strikes to help secure the release of scores of political prisoners, was able to travel to the French city of Strasbourg to pick up the award thanks to Cuba's abolition of exit permit requirements in January.

In 2010, an empty chair draped in a Cuban flag had symbolised Havana's refusal to allow him to pick up the prize, whose past winners include South Africa's Nelson Mandela, Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi and former UN chief Kofi Annan.

Farinas is the third Cuban to be awarded the 50,000-euro ($64,000) prize, named after late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

In April, Cuba's "Ladies in White", who also fought for the release of jailed Cuban dissidents, travelled to Strasbourg to accept the award they had won eight years earlier.

In 2002 the honour went to Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who last year died in a car crash. The United States has called for a probe into the accident.

Farinas, 51, won the award after a 135-day hunger strike in 2010 to press for the release of political prisoners.

A journalist who has also campaigned for a free press and against Internet censorship, he carried out his hunger strikes over 15 years in an ongoing, bold confrontation with the only one-party Communist government in the Americas.

He told European lawmakers that his mother, Alicia Hernandez, had begged him to go into exile the first time he came out of prison, but that "I answered this would not serve as a lesson for Cuban patriots."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130703/cuba-dissident-farinas-finally-picks-2010-sakharov-prize