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locate on page: CIP on Cuban dissident crackdown | Letter to Cuban Interests Section | Crackdown reflects Castro's fears | Why the crackdown in Cuba? | House passes resolution on Cuban dissident crisis | Why did Washington goad Cuba? |
Human Rights Watch: sentences "totally unjustified" | Cuba responds to criticism | Senate Working Group urges dissidents' release
| Cuba sentences dissidents

CIP's Cuba team signs on to letter on Cuban dissident crisis

For Immediate Release
April 9, 2003

Wayne Smith, Anya Landau, Cuba Project
Sarah Stephens, Freedom to Travel Project

CIP's Wayne Smith, Anya Landau and Sarah Stephens joined a group of Washington-based policy analysts who urge changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba in sending a letter on April 4th to the chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington "to express our profound concern at the arrest of more than 70 Cuban citizens in recent days, and to urge their immediate release."

"In the course of our work, many of us have met many of the Cubans who have been arrested for advocating ideas that do not coincide with those of your government," the signers wrote. "We fail to understand how these ideas can constitute a threat to Cuba's security. To the contrary we can only believe that a strong competition of ideas will help Cubans to chart their future."

The letter went on to say, "We know that Cuba has expressed serious grievances regarding the conduct of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. We believe these grievances should be resolved between the governments, using the channels of communication and the tools available to them."

As Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, has noted: "In the dark days that lie ahead, people of good will in the United States who want to see a more normal relationship between our two countries, and to see a more open society in Cuba, should hold to the demonstrable truth that the best way to bring about both is through the reduction of tensions, the beginning of a meaningful dialogue and increased contacts. "

Letter to Dagoberto Rodriguez, Chief of Cuban Interests Section

April 4, 2003

Dagoberto Rodriguez
Chief, Cuban Interests Section
Embassy of Switzerland
2630 16th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009

Dear Mr. Rodriguez,

We write to express our profound concern at the arrest of more than 70 Cuban citizens in recent days, and to urge their immediate release.

We are Americans who promote changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba because we believe that greater contact between our societies will both help resolve current issues and prepare the way for improved relations in the future. We will continue that work based on our view that it serves the interests of both our peoples.

In the course of our work many of us have met many of the Cubans who have been arrested for advocating ideas that do not coincide with those of your government. We fail to understand how these ideas can constitute a threat to Cuba's security. To the contrary, we can only believe that a strong competition of ideas will help Cubans to chart their future.

We know that Cuba has expressed serious grievances regarding the conduct of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. We believe these grievances should be resolved between the governments, using the channels of communication and the tools available to them.

We therefore add our voices to the many others who call for the liberation of all those Cubans who have recently been imprisoned for their political activism.

Mavis Anderson, Senior Associate, Latin America Working Group
Bernard W. Aronson, Chairman, Acon Investments
Alberto R. Coll, Senior Fellow, Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy
Jim Courter, Chairman, Lexington Institute
Heather Foote, Director, Washington Office, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Lisa Haugaard, Director, Latin America Working Group
Anya Landau, Associate, Center for International Policy
Philip Peters, Vice President, Lexington Institute
Wayne S. Smith, Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy
Sarah Stephens, Freedom to Travel project, Center for International Policy

Crackdown reflects Castro's fears, not U.S. actions

The Miami Herald
By: Jaime Suchlicki
April 15, 2003

The recent violent crackdown on dissidents in Cuba has more to do with Fidel Castro's desire to leave a clean slate for the succession to power of his brother Raúl than with U.S. policies toward and actions in the island.

Violent repression of opposition is nothing new in Cuba. In 1971, Castro arrested intellectuals, homosexuals and religious believers and staged a Stalinist type trial against Cuba's famous writer, Heberto Padilla.

In 1975, at the height of Cuba's involvement in Angola, Castro purged ''ideological deviants'' from the University of Havana.

In 1980, when President Carter was hoping for an improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations, Castro arrested numerous opponents and unleashed the Mariel exodus onto Florida shores.

In 1985, Castro executed Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and purged his security services and the military of ``suspected elements.''

In 1996, Castro crushed Concilio Cubano, an umbrella group of dissident organizations, and arrested most of its members.

This most recent crackdown was being planned for a long time. The Iraqi war provided the timing. It should be clear by now that Castro despises opposition groups or any form of dissent. He tolerated them as part of his ''charm offensive'' to obtain unilateral concessions from the U.S. government: tourism and credits.

Yet Castro's deteriorating health and his desire to pave the way for a smooth succession has taken precedence. As in the past, political considerations, not economic ones, are paramount. By his actions now, Castro has given notice that the internal period of limited tolerance has come to an end.

The rehabilitation, prior to this latest crackdown, of Ramiro Valdés and his resurrection as a new member of the ruling Council of State does not augur well for the future. A former minister of the interior, Valdés is a dreaded figure in Cuba, remembered for his human rights abuses and brutal repressive methods. Passed in 1999, Law 88 criminalizes most political dissent and is further evidence that Cuba's dictator has been getting ready to impose orthodoxy at home while maintaining opposition to the United States abroad.

Faced with the approaching end of his life and his fear that once he is gone ''his'' revolution will change course and Cuba will end up as another friendly Caribbean island close to the United States, Castro is following the path of other old dictators, like Mao Zedong in China, who tried to stem the tide of history. Cuba's ''cultural revolution'' promises to be as brutal as that of Mao's in China.

Yet the outcome seems also certain: Cubans will eventually reject Castroism and transform Cuba into a free nation.

Jaime Suchlicki is the director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

Why the Crackdown in Cuba?

By Wayne S. Smith, CIP senior fellow
April 8, 2003

Various newspaper articles reporting the deplorable crackdown on dissidents in Cuba have noted that the situation there earlier had seemed to be inching toward somewhat greater tolerance. During his trip to Cuba in May of last year, for example, President Carter met with Cuban dissidents and in his televised speech to the nation spoke of the Varela Project, an initiative of theirs calling for greater political freedoms. And both before and after Carter’s visit, many other Americans, myself included, regularly and openly met with the dissidents as part of a broad effort to improve relations between our two countries.

Oswaldo Paya, the principal architect of the Varela Project, was even recently allowed to come to the United States to receive the W. Averell Harriman award from the National Democratic Institute in Washington, and from there he went on to Europe. The Cuban government may not have liked what he had to say while abroad, but he wasn’t punished for it when he returned home. It did indeed seem that things might slowly be moving toward somewhat greater tolerance of dissent on the island.

Why then the recent arrest of dissidents? Is it, as some in the United States quickly posited, that Castro was simply hoping the rest of the world was so distracted by the war in Iraq, that no one would notice or react to the detention of a few dissidents in Cuba?

No, that explanation simply doesn’t hold up . First of all, no one in his right mind (and whatever else he is, Castro is that) would have expected the arrest of over 80 dissidents, many of them well-known international figures, to go unremarked. The Cubans expected a firestorm, and they got it.

Second, the timing could hardly be worse from Castro’s standpoint. The UN Human Rights Commission has just begun its annual deliberations to decide, among other things, whether to condemn Cuba for violations of human rights. Given the greater tolerance discussed above, there had seemed a good chance that Cuba would not be condemned this year. The crackdown, coming just now, makes that far less likely.

Given all that, why the crackdown and why now? To answer those questions, we must first note that the greater leeway for dissent noted above came in response to the overtures of groups in the American Congress and the American public, not to any easing of the hard line on the part of the Bush Administration. Quite the contrary, its policies and rhetoric remained as hostile and as threatening as ever. It ignored all Cuban offers to begin a dialogue and instead held to an objective of regime change. As Mr. James Cason, the Chief of the U.S. Interests Section has stated publicly, one of his tasks was to promote “transition to a participatory form of government.”

Now, we would all like to see a more open society in Cuba, but it is not up to the United States to promote it or bring it about. In fact, it is not up to the United States to decide what form of government Cuba should have. Cuba is, after all, a sovereign country.

The Bush Administration was uncomfortable with signs of greater tolerance on Castro’s part, for that simply encouraged those who wanted to ease travel controls and begin dismantling the embargo. New initiatives along those lines were expected in the Congress this spring. What to do to head them off? What the Administration did is clear enough. It ordered the Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to begin a series of high-profile and provocative meetings with dissidents, even holding seminars in his own residence and passing out equipment of various kinds to them. He even held press conferences after some of the meetings. Such meetings might have been considered routine, had the purpose not been regime change. But given that it was, the Cubans came to see them as “subversive” in nature and as increasingly provocative.

Those arrested were not, by and large, charged with expressing themselves against the state, but with “plotting with American diplomats.” It has been noted that Cuban diplomats regularly meet with American citizens. True, but to understand Cuban sensitivities in this case, let us imagine the reaction of the U.S. Government if those diplomats were meeting with members of the Puerto Rican Independence Party to promote Puerto Rico’s transition from commonwealth to independence. Perhaps the Attorney General would not have everyone involved arrested, but I wouldn’t take any bets on it.

And the beginning of the war in Iraq did play a role in the crackdown. The Cubans saw it as a signal that the United States was determined to throw its weight around and to blow away anyone it doesn’t like through the unilateral use of force. As one Cuban official put it to me recently: “This new preemptive-strike policy of yours puts us in a new ball game, and in that new game, we must make it clear that we can’t be pushed around.”

It was this kind of mind set that led to the crackdown and that turned the latter into a massive overreaction. The Cubans did exactly what the Bush Administration had hoped they would do. Virtually the whole active dissident community has now not only been arrested but put on trial (or notified that they soon will be) to face extremely heavy sentences – some perhaps even life imprisonment. Tragic. This is a blot that will not be easily erased and that will impede any significant progress in U.S.-Cuban relations until there is some amelioration of conditions in Cuba. The Bush Administration meanwhile will certainly continue the pressures, and the provocations, so as to prevent any such amelioration.

It has been argued that Castro simply saw this as a propitious moment to halt dissent in Cuba, and there are doubtless some elements of truth to that argument. Castro has never liked to be criticized. Still, over the past few years, he had tolerated criticism of the system. All things being equal, he might have continued to do so. But the situation has changed, not just between the U.S. and Cuba, but internationally, in ways that the U.S. public is just beginning to understand.

In the dark days that lie ahead, people of good will in the United States who want to see a more normal relationship between our two countries, and to see a more open society in Cuba, should hold to the demonstrable truth that the best way to bring about both is through the reduction of tensions, the beginning of a meaningful dialogue and increased contacts. As Elizardo Sanchez, Cuba’s leading human rights activist, has often put it, “the more American citizens in the streets of Cuban cities, the better for the cause of a more open society; so why do you maintain travel controls?” The policies followed by one administration after another over the past 44 years have accomplished nothing positive. True to form, the policy followed by the Bush Administration has produced only a crackdown. Exactly what we should not want!

Wayne S. Smith, now a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy, was Third Secretary of Embassy at the American Embassy in Havana from 1958 until the U.S. broke relations in January of 1961, and was Chief of the U.S. Interests Section there from 1979 until 1982.


Why did Washington goad Cuba?

Toronto Globe and Mail
By Paul Knox
April 9, 2003

When James Cason was named last year as the senior U.S. diplomat in Cuba, he said he planned to be "creative, activeand vigorous" in the job. The chief result of his vigorous creativity is that dozens of political activists and journalists have been imprisoned for outrageously long terms after being convicted of conspiring with Mr. Cason to overthrow the regime of President Fidel Castro.

Meantime, there is no sign of any fundamental change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. So the question is: Why did Washington's man in Havana goad the Castro regime into launching what may well be its harshest crackdown on peaceful dissent? And what does the Bush administration plan next?

Mr. Cason arrived in Cuba in September and immediately cranked up the pace of U.S. contacts with independent journalists and dissidents opposed to Mr. Castro's Communist government. He crisscrossed the island, seeking out activists and holding meetings with them. He let opposition journalists use computers at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. He not only frequently invited dissidents to his residence, but ostentatiously showed up at their meetings and spoke publicly in their support.

In February, after being elected to a sixth term as president, Mr. Castro lashed out, calling Mr. Cason's actions "shameless and defiant provocation." He threatened to close the U.S. mission and boot its chief off his island. Then, as the world was transfixed with events in Iraq, his agents swooped down on the dissidents. Beginning March 18, they rounded up nearly 80 of them and clapped them in jail. The prisoners went on trial last week; at least half of them have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 to 27 years.

I don't want any misunderstanding here. The man responsible for the crackdown on dissidents is Mr. Castro. No matter what you think of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, or what you think of Cuba's health-care and school systems, there can be no justification for jailing a man for 25 years because he wrote a pamphlet or made a radio broadcast or had lunch with a U.S. diplomat.

On Cuban soil, at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, the United States is holding more than 600 prisoners captured in the "war on terrorism." Some have been released without charge after more than a year of periodic interrogation. All are denied minimal standards of due process. It is wrong and unconscionable. It is also wrong and unconscionable for Cuba to round up these peaceful protesters, conduct sham two-day trials in which they had no prospect of a meaningful defence, and sentence them to long terms in a harsh prison system.

No one should be surprised about the Cuban crackdown --least of all in Washington. But if it was foreseen by U.S. strategists, what's the plan? Remember, this is the Bush administration. The same folks who are bombing the bejesus out of Baghdad to deliver democracy to the Arab world. The same ones who vow never again to betray opponents of a tyrannical regime the way Iraqi foes of Saddam Hussein were hung out to dry by the U.S.-led coalition in 1991. I can't believe the U.S. government plans to seriously ratchet up pressure on Mr. Castro at the same time as it is heavily engaged halfway around the world. Nevertheless, its own "national security strategy" speaks of American ideals as a "lifeline to lonely defenders of liberty" and of fighting not only terrorists but also tyrants.

I asked a couple of people in Washington about this, people who follow U.S.-Cuba matters closely. They were careful to say Mr. Castro bears the blame for what has happened, but they believe Mr. Cason's actions played into his hands.

"United States policy has given Castro an excuse, albeit illegitimate, to in effect decapitate the dissident movement in Cuba," said Brian Alexander, executive director of the Cuba Policy Foundation. Dan Erickson, Cuba program director at the Inter-American Dialogue, reminded me that Mr. Castro has a long history of choosing moments in which to exploit the many weaknesses and contradictions in U.S. Cuba policy. "The United States is playing checkers, and Castro is playing chess," he said. "And once again, he's several moves ahead."

What will the Bushites do now to back up Mr. Cason's new friends? Please, no more military action. But since domestic politics preclude dropping the embargo, the options for peaceful pressure are severely limited. Cutting off money transfers to Cuba would impose further hardship on long-suffering Cubans and enrage their relatives in exile. There seems little point in further tightening travel restrictions.

Perhaps the jailed dissidents know what Washington is up to. At any rate, they've got plenty of time to think about it.

House passes Resolution 179 to condemn dissident arrests in Cuba

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the systematic human rights violations in Cuba committed by the Castro regime, calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners, and supporting respect for basic human rights and free elections in Cuba .

Whereas the Cuban Government continues to repress all peaceful attempts by the Cuban people to bring democratic change to the island by denying universally recognized liberties, including freedom of speech, assembly, association, movement and of the press;

Whereas on March 9, 2003, many of Cuba's prominent dissidents issued a statement titled `Joint Statement' to the European Union, wherein they reaffirmed their view of the Cuban Government's `total vocation to immobility and its refusal to respect internationally recognized human rights or accept the existence of legitimate political opposition' and further stated that `in recent times the Cuban Government has intensified its political and social repression';

Whereas commencing on March 17, 2003, the Cuban Government carried out a massive, island wide crackdown on members of Cuba's pro-democracy movement, which included the arrest of over 80 dissidents, among them many who signed the `Joint Statement', activists of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, promoters of the Varela Project, independent journalists, and numerous members of Cuba's nascent independent civil society;

Whereas the Cuban Government arbitrarily searched the homes and confiscated personal items belonging to pro-democracy activists;

Whereas independent journalists were among those incarcerated in this massive crackdown, including Raul Rivero, known as the dean of the dissident independent journalists in Cuba ;

Whereas independent librarians, who make their homes available so that the Cuban population may have access to publications otherwise censored by the Cuban Government, also became victims of repression, as many were arrested, their homes ransacked and searched, and publications and other belongings confiscated;

Whereas Marta Beatriz Roque, and other leaders of the `Assembly to Promote Civil Society', an islandwide movement seeking to coordinate the various sectors of Cuba's nascent independent civil society who work for a democratic transition, were incarcerated and face lengthy sentences, including life sentences;

Whereas activists who have collected or signed petitions for the Varela Project were also incarcerated in this crackdown and may also face life sentences;

Whereas more than 80 pro-democracy leaders who work for a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba have been incarcerated and sentenced under `Law 88' and `Law 91', two draconian totalitarian laws that call for long sentences of 10, 15, or 20 years, or life imprisonment, or even death for pro-democracy activity;

Whereas there is concern for the well-being and safety for all of Cuba's political prisoners, particularly Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva, who is a blind human rights activist incarcerated since March of 2002 without being formally charged, and Leonardo Bruzon Avila, who has been denied medical attention according to Amnesty International, despite the effects of a prolonged hunger strike while in prison.;

Whereas a plea for solidarity was made from within the notoriously harsh prison in Cuba known as `Combinado del Este' and signed by 21 political prisoners, among them Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Francisco Chaviano, Rafael Ibarra, and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez `Antunez' to the member states of the 59th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission;

Whereas the Cuban Government has carried out `summary trials' to expeditiously sentence pro-democracy leaders to try to intimidate and silence other pro-democracy activists on the island, while world attention is primarily focused on Iraq;

Whereas the Castro regime has engaged in mass arrests of dissidents while the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, of which Cuba is a member, is meeting in Geneva;

Whereas certain member countries of the Latin American and Caribbean group (GRULAC) at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights are currently drafting a resolution on the violations of human rights by the Cuban Government;

Whereas the Cuban Government has repeatedly violated the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, and other international and regional human rights agreements, and has violated the mandates issued by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights;

Whereas foreign diplomats and members of the international press have been barred by the Cuban Government from being present at the `summary trials'; and

Whereas pro-democracy leaders on the island have come together to call for the immediate release of all Cuban political prisoners, and are requesting international solidarity with the internal opposition, as reflected in a March 31, 2003, statement signed by some of the most prominent dissidents on the island: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) condemns the brutal crackdown of the Cuban Government on the island's peaceful pro-democracy movement;

(2) calls for the immediate release of all Cuban political prisoners;

(3) supports the right of the Cuban people to exercise fundamental political and civil liberties, including freedom of expression, assembly, association, movement, press, and the right to multiparty elections;

(4) calls on the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, to work with the member countries of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to ensure a resolution that includes the strongest possible condemnation of the current crackdown of dissidents and of the gross human rights violations committed by the Cuban Government; and

(5) calls on the Latin American and Caribbean group (GRULAC) at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to exclude Cuba from its slate of candidates for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and urges all member nations to oppose renewing Cuba's membership on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights until the Government of Cuba adheres to international human rights standards, such as those delineated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Remarks by Congressman James P. McGovern (MA)
In support of H. Res. 179
April 8, 2003

Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this resolution.

All voices must condemn the recent crackdown by the Government of Cuba against political dissent.

Those arrested include more than two dozen independent journalists, leaders of independent trade unions and opposition political parties, and pro-democracy activists involved in the country-wide reform effort known as the Varela project.

It makes no difference whether you are for or against change in US policy towards Cuba – on this matter we speak with one voice: These arrests are unacceptable. The summary trials and harsh sentences merit universal condemnation.

I have had the privilege of traveling to Cuba many times, and have met directly with Cuban independent journalists and members of the dissident community.

Many of these individuals were arrested in this latest crackdown. They are receiving harsh sentences for actions we take for granted here in the United States – the right to hold meetings, have discussions, and express opinions different from those held by the government.

The Cuban government has said these arrests are a response to actions by U.S. Ambassador Cason and the U.S. Interests Section that are perceived as deliberate attempts to foment subversion in Cuba.

Those grievances should be raised and resolved between the two governments.

But no action of the U.S. Interests Section justifies, in any way, these recent arrests. The right of diplomats to meet with people who represent a range of views – including people who peaceably dissent from the policies and priorities of their own governments – should not be impeded. In fact, Mr. Chairman, restrictions on US diplomats in Cuba and Cuban diplomats in America are just plain wrong.

Mr. Chairman, I am seriously concerned about the increased tensions and the hardening of positions in US-Cuban relations. They do little to advance human rights or open political space in Cuba, in fact, quite the opposite – they do little to benefit the Cuban or the American people.

I fear, without concerted effort to change our policies towards one another for the better, it will only lead to greater restrictions in both countries, and fewer opportunities for moderate voices to engage directly with one another.

I would like to simply conclude by calling upon the Government of Cuba to release these prisoners and all prisoners of conscience.


Human Rights Watch on Cuba's Sentencing of Dissidents

Cuba: Heavy Sentences Are "Totally Unjustified"
Rights Group Calls on U.N. to Condemn Crackdown
(New York, April 7, 2003)

The heavy sentences imposed against non-violent Cuban dissidents are unjustified and draconian, Human Rights Watch said today. Defendants received sentences ranging from twelve to twenty-five years of imprisonment.

"These harsh prison sentences are totally unjustified," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "Cuba is flouting fundamental human rights norms."
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, now holding its annual six-week session in Geneva, will be examining the human rights situation in Cuba. Four Latin American countries (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay) have drafted a resolution on Cuba's human rights situation.

Over the past eleven years, the U.N. Commission has passed ten resolutions criticizing Cuba's violations of human rights. The language of this year's resolution is considerably weaker than that of past years, however. Notably, it contains no reference to the nature of the abuses under examination.

"It's perverse that there's a massive crackdown occurring in Cuba just at the moment that the United Nations is examining Cuba's human rights record," said Vivanco. "The Commission must condemn these abuses, and do so strongly and unequivocally."

Human Rights Watch has confirmed that at least twelve defendants have been sentenced, including Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, age 56; Raul Rivero, age 57; Hector Palacios, age 62; Nelson Molinet Espino; Nelson Alberto Aguilar Rodríguez; Ricardo González; Oscar Espinosa Chepe; Hector Maseda; Oscar Alfonso Valdes; Marcelo Lopez and Marcelo Cano.

Marta Beatriz Roque, an independent economist, received a twenty-year sentence. Roque had previously spent nearly three years in prison for publishing an analytic paper calling for political reforms.

Nelson Molinet Espino and Nelson Alberto Aguiar, two dissidents who were tried together with Beatriz Roque, received twelve-year sentences.

Raul Rivero, a noted poet, writer and independent journalist, received a twenty-year sentence. Other sentenced journalists include Ricardo González Alfonso, who worked as a correspondent for Reporters Sans Frontières, and who received a twenty-year sentence. Oscar Espinosa Chepe, an economist, and Hector Maseda Gutierrez, a journalist, also received twenty-year sentences.

Opposition leader Hector Palacios, for whom prosecutors had originally recommended a life sentence, was sentenced to twenty-five years of imprisonment for treason and subversion. Palacios is one of the leaders of the Varela Project, a high-profile reformist effort.

Opposition activist Oscar Alfonso Valdes reportedly received an eighteen-year sentence.

Marcelo Lopez and Marcelo Cano, human rights activists, received eighteen and fifteen year sentences, respectively.

The ongoing trials are the latest development in a massive wave of repression that began on March 18. Approximately 80 people have been arrested and detained since the crackdown began, including prominent dissidents, human rights activists, independent journalists, independent unionists, and directors of independent libraries.

State-run television has accused the detainees of "provocations" and "subversive activities."

One of the ongoing trials is that of Oscar Biscet, a doctor and human rights activist. He was arrested in December 2002, prior to the current crackdown. His arrest came just over a month after his release from prison after serving a three-year-sentence for a peaceful protest. Prosecutors are reportedly demanding a life sentence in his case.

The Cuban courts are using extremely summary procedures in these cases. As a general matter, the courts lack independence and fair procedures. But for the current prosecutions, aggravating these problems, the courts are using a so-called facilitated procedure, which, under articles 479 and 480 of the code of criminal procedure, should be applied only in "exceptional circumstances."


Cuba responds to criticism

The following note from the Cuban Embassy in Canada responds to an article by the Toronto Globe & Mail which cites a Canadian government protest over the current trials in Cuba:

The individuals arrested and prosecuted in Cuba that the G & M makes reference to are not accused of nor were they detained as a consequence of being economists, journalists, human rights activists of for expressing their opinion or dissent. They have violated laws that are clearly aimed at protecting Cuba from the attempt by the US government to destabilize the country, undermine and destroy Cuba's Constitutional order, its Government, its independence and its Socialist society.

It is illegal in Cuba to render to the US government information that facilitates the implementation of the Helms Burton law and other
provisions of US hostility toward Cuba. It is illegal to seek classified information to help the implementation of Helms Burton. It is illegal to reproduce and distribute information material of the US government conceived to support the economic war against Cuba and disturb the internal order in the country.

It is illegal to take actions in support of Helms Burton that damage or obstruct the economic, industrial, commercial or financial relations of Cuban entities with the international community.

The US does not have the right in Cuba and should not have the right anywhere to allow their diplomats to interfere in the domestic affairs of foreign countries. It is not acceptable for Cuba to allow the chief US diplomat in Havana to act as an organizer or agitator against the Government and to have Cuban citizens acting not only in complicity but as instruments of the policy of hostility of the US against Cuba.

The US government has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars and still dedicates millions of dollars today to destabilize the Cuban nation. The actions for which these individuals have faced the law are organized, financed and conceived by the US government. Cuba has the right to defend itself against such powerful foe and to protect the stability, security and the lives of its citizens. US hostility against Cuba has cost already hundreds of lives, pain to many families, immense economic damage and
instability to the region. No country that respects itself would allow its nation to face such dangers without protection.

This is not an issue of human rights, liberty or freedom of expression, its about the right of a nation to build a just society protected from foreign aggression. The government that has supported the most brutal regimes of the 20th century, that disregards international law, that steps over the UN, that carries out a criminal war for economic and geopolitical purposes, that possess the greatest arsenals of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is the one that sustains these so called human rights activists. There must be some connection.


Senate Working Group on Cuba urges dissidents' release

April 2, 2003

Dagoberto Rodriguez
Chief, Cuban Interests Section
Embassy of Switzerland
2630 16th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009

Dear Mr. Rodriguez,

As you may know, a bipartisan group of Senators recently announced the formation of a Senate Working Group on Cuba. This group will work to ease the trade and travel restrictions that have been in place for the last forty years.

However, as members of the Working Group and as advocates for improved relations between the United States and Cuba we are deeply troubled by recent actions of the Cuban government against Cuban dissidents. Dozens of Cuban citizens have been arrested or threatened with arrest for promoting human rights or practicing independent journalism. These arrests are deplorable, and we hope that your government will immediately release these dissidents. Unless corrected, the recent actions of the Cuban government will only undermine efforts to expand contacts between the two countries.

In addition, we understand that the Cuban government has begun to restrict the freedom of movement of U.S. diplomats in Cuba. There are reports that the Cuban government may impose further restrictions on U.S. diplomats or even close the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. This, in our view, would be a tremendous mistake. Indeed, the increasing tensions between the Cuban government and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana only threaten to deteriorate further our diplomatic relationship. We in Congress believe that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana should follow all diplomatic norms in order to lessen tensions between our two governments, and your government should do its part to bring about a lessening of tensions as well. The current state of relations serves neither country.


Max Baucus
Michael Enzi
Byron Dorgan
Norm Coleman
Blanche Lincoln
Jeff Bingaman
Chris Dodd
Pat Roberts
Chuck Hagel



Cuba sentences dissidents to 15 to 25 years

By Anthony Boadle
April 7, 2003

HAVANA, April 7 (Reuters) - Communist Cuba sentenced seven dissidents charged with opposing President Fidel Castro to 15 to 25 years in prison in the toughest political crackdown in decades.

In a clear message to the Bush administration that Cuba will not tolerate its efforts to build up a dissident movement on the island, a court convicted seven people of "working with a foreign power to undermined the government" and gave them prison sentences that ranged from 15 to 25 years.

Seventy-one other people are also charged but their trials are not yet complete.

Despite the tough sentences, the Havana Province Tribunal rejected prosecutors' requests for life sentences for leading dissident Hector Palacios and Ricardo Gonzalez, editor of Cuba's only dissident magazine, their wives said. Palacios was sentenced to 25 years and Gonzalez to 20 years.

Cuba's best known opposition writer, poet and journalist, 57-year-old Raul Rivero, was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

"This is so arbitrary for a man whose only crime is to write what he thinks," his wife Blanca Reyes told reporters after the sentence was given behind closed doors. "What they found on him was a tape recorder, not a grenade."

In other sentences on Monday, economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe got 20 years, Hector Maseda 20 years, Osvaldo Alfonso 18 years and Marcelo Lopez 15 years.

The crackdown began on March 18 with arrests and house searches. That was followed last week by one-day trials in court rooms filled with Communist Party members and security agents while only three close relatives of the prisoners could attend, the wives said.

Government informants who had infiltrated dissident groups testified against the prisoners.

"The trial was unfair. He met his lawyer five minutes before it started and had no time to study the charges," said Claudia Marquez, wife of Osvaldo Alfonso.

She said the court reduced Alfonso's sentence from a life term sought by prosecutors because he accepted the charges and said in court that he had been manipulated by U.S. diplomats.

The wives have three days to appeal, but said they were not hopeful the sentences could be shortened.

"These terms were dictated by President Castro. In Cuba there is only one voice," said Reyes.


Western diplomats and foreign journalists were barred from the trials, which were criticized in Europe. The U.S. State Department said the dissidents were being tried in "kangaroo courts."

International human rights organizations accused Castro of trying to knock out his political opponents while world attention was focused on Baghdad.

Half of the 78 dissidents on trial had organized a signature drive to petition for reforms to Cuba's one-party socialist state. The effort was known as the Varela Project, which united Cuba's small, divided dissident movement into the first major internal challenge to Castro's rule in four decades.

The Bush administration stepped up active support for the dissidents, who would meet in the residence of the top U.S. diplomat in Havana, James Cason.

Castro, in power since a 1959 revolution, denounced Cason last month for turning the American mission into an "incubator of
counterrevolution" and threatened to close the U.S. Interests Section. Havana and Washington do not have formal diplomatic relations.

U.S. diplomats were surprised to learn that Manuel David Orrio, who had led a meeting of opposition journalists at Cason's house last month, testified against Rivero and said in court testimony that he was a state security agent.

Prosecutors have asked for life sentences for dissident economist Martha Beatriz Roque; opposition labor activist Pedro Pablo Alvarez; and civil disobedience advocate Oscar Elias Biscet. Those sentences are expected on Tuesday.

The trials went virtually unnoticed in Cuba. There was no mention in Cuba's state-run media and few Cubans were aware of the dissident round-up.

"The social and economic decay in Cuba is so great and the government knows there is widespread discontent," said Miriam Leiva, a former diplomat who lost her job and was expelled from the Communist Party in 1992 for not divorcing her dissident husband Espinosa Chepe.

"That is why the sentences are so harsh, to repress people calling for change and intimidate others," she said.

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