``Today I will also fast,'' said Magaly de Armas, wife of Vladimiro Roca, one of four leading opposition members sentenced to prison terms earlier this year after being convicted on sedition charges. ``I offer my solidarity in the name of The Four.''
De Armas spoke at a news conference in a modest home where the protest is being held to demand freedom of expression and the release of several hundred people the dissidents say are political prisoners.
Protest organizer Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet read a letter delivered to President Fidel Castro, asking that those prisoners be granted amnesty.
There was no immediate response from the Cuban government, which says it holds no political prisoners, only common criminals. A Foreign Ministry spokesman last week dismissed the fast as a propaganda ploy organized by government opponents in Miami.
Several dozen members of various opposition groups began the fast on June 7, and the majority of the participants promise to continue for 40 days to make their point. During that time, they say they will consume only liquids.
Seated in a room plastered with posters of Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi and the late Cuban-American exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa, the protesters wore identical white T-shirts that read: ``Liberty for Political Prisoners.''
``We will continue on our fast for 40 days, even if we are arrested by the political police or are carried away in an ambulance,'' said protester Aida Rosa Valdes Santana, coordinator of an organization for former prisoners.
The demonstration is among the few protests held in recent years by Cuba's often-timid opposition. Another bold protest two years ago led to the arrests of Roca and three other dissident leaders who had held two news conferences with foreign journalists.
The four opposition leaders were arrested in July 1997 for criticizing a Communist Party document that they said did not present solutions to Cuba's economic problems. The four were sentenced in March to prison terms ranging from three to five years.
Protesters in the latest demonstration say they have not been visited by the communist government's security agents in the first week.
The current protest brings together members of an assortment of small groups, including the 30th of November Democratic Party; the Martiana Civic League, named for independence hero Jose Marti; the National Civic Union; Naturpaz, an ecological group; and the Lawton Foundation, named for the Havana neighborhood where its was formed.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press