Cuban man who sewed mouth shut in hunger strike to protest DVD confiscation collapses

GUANABACOA, Cuba (AP) — A Cuban man who sewed his mouth shut after launching a hunger strike to protest confiscation of electronic devices by customs officials has collapsed and been sent to a hospital, his son said Thursday.

Vladimir Alejo Miranda fainted on Wednesday at his home in Guanabacoa, just outside Havana, Leordan Alejo told The Associated Press. He said his father began the strike two months ago, sewed his mouth shut on Sept. 7 and stopped drinking water and tea earlier this week. Vladimir Alejo's wife also sewed her mouth shut in solidarity, according to the son.

The elder Alejo was being treated at the nearby Miguel Enriquez hospital, which journalists are not allowed to enter. Leordan Alejo, 27, said had no word on his father's condition.

Alejo's relatives have been contacting foreign media based in Havana for weeks, accusing some journalists of being part of Cuban state security for not covering the developments.

The relatives first said the strike was over an airport customs seizure of a DVD player, a camera and flash memory stick sent by a friend from the United States. Since then, they have said the protest has expanded to include a call for the release of political prisoners and other issues.

On Thursday, his son said the hunger strike was to demand "the right to work and so that my family can live like human beings," though he did not elaborate.

Elizardo Sanchez, the head of the independent Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, who normally catalogs information about hunger strikes and other protest actions, has not commented on the case. He could not be immediately reached on Thursday.

Other prominent dissidents have also remained largely silent.

Laura Pollan, the head of the Damas de Blanco, a group of wives of jailed political prisoners, said she had received letters from Alejo and was aware of his protest.

"We do not support hunger strikes," she said. A jailed Cuban dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died earlier this year after a long hunger strike.

Alejo, 47, a former employee of a state-run factory that made keys, served two years in prison for disrespecting authority after a dispute with his neighbor.

When he was released last year, he painted his pumpkin-orange home black in protest, scrawling "Long Live Free Cuba!" across the facade. The walls of the home are adorned with bumper stickers and placards reading "Change" and other anti-government slogans.

Cuba is in the process of releasing some 52 dissidents recognized by Amnesty International as "prisoners of conscience," following an agreement ironed out with the help of the Roman Catholic Church.

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Associated Press writer Paul Haven contributed to this report.