A dissident has become the third Cuban in less than a decade to win a prestigious human rights prize awarded by the European Parliament. Ethiopian and Israeli human rights activists were also front runners for the award.
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek announced Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas has won the Sakharov Prize.
"He was ready to sacrifice and risk his own health and life as a means of pressure to achieve change in Cuba," Buzek said. "He used hunger strikes to protest and to challenge the lack of freedom of speech in Cuba, carrying the hopes for all those who care for freedom, human rights, and democracy."
Farinas is a psychologist and journalist who has taken part in more than 20 hunger strikes in defiance of the Cuban government. He ended a 135-day hunger strike earlier this year after the Cuban government agreed to free more than 50 political prisoners.
Ethiopian opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa was also considered for the prize, as was Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group of former soldiers who campaign against abuses committed by the military in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Buzek congratulated all the candidates.
"All the candidates were excellent from point of view of our feeling on human rights and fighting for them all over the world," he added.
The $70,000 Sakharov Prize was named after the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and was first awarded in 1988. Farinas is the third Cuban to win the award in the past decade.
In 2002 it went to political activist Oswaldo Paya and in 2005 to the Ladies in White, a group of Cuban women who carry out peaceful protests in support of jailed dissidents.
Reed Brody is a spokesperson with the international group Human Rights Watch.
"Well the Cuban government certainly will not be happy with this choice, just as the Chinese government was not happy with the Nobel Peace Prize," Brody said. "The immediate reaction will be a hostile one from the government, but I think that there is a debate going on in Cuba and this is certain to make the leadership think about what is in Cuba's best interest and what is going to best help Cuba engage with the other countries of the world."
He says the award comes during a critical period for relations between Cuba and the European Union as some members, notably Spain, are pushing for renewed relations with Cuba.
He says that runs counter to the majority EU perspective.
"There is a common position in the European Union that relations with Cuba cannot be fully normalized before Cuba makes important progress on human rights and democracy and in particular the freeing of political prisoners," Brody added.
Farinas is due to receive his award at a ceremony in December in Strasbourg, France. The 2005 Cuban winner, the Ladies in White, were unable to collect their prize.