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News ::
Cuban political repression seen as worst in decades (english)
17 Apr 2003
The Cuban government has "carried out its most significant act of political repression in decades," arresting more than 100
people since mid-March as the world was focused on the war in Iraq, a State Department official told a House panel
yesterday.
"Dissidents were imprisoned for writing 'counterrevolutionary articles,' running independent libraries and belonging to
'illegal' groups of independent journalists," J. Curtis Struble, acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs,
told the House International Relations Committee.
The Cubans faced "spurious charges" of subversion and treason, and 75 of them were sentenced to long prison sentences
after secretive trials, said Lorne W. Craner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.
Cuba's actions have drawn outrage from many countries, the European Union and international human rights
organizations. President Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the
United Nations, all made strong statements condemning the arrests.
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva is considering a resolution that urges Cuba to allow a human rights
envoy to visit the prisoners. The resolution was introduced by Costa Rica, Peru and Uruguay, and is supported by the United
States. Cuba denied a similar request in 2002.
Many of the arrested dissidents faced charges of conspiring with U.S. diplomats at the United States Interests Section in
Havana, Mr. Craner said.
Fidel Castro's government has long claimed that the only opposition to the Cuban government has been "created" by the
U.S. government through the interests section, said Mr. Struble. The office promotes democratic change in Cuba and
distributes information about the United States.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, the New Jersey Republican who chaired yesterday's hearing, said Mr. Castro was "shifting
the blame" and that Congress demanded "immediate release" of the prisoners.
Mr. Struble said the real reason for Mr. Castro's crackdown was "because the homegrown opposition is losing its fear of
the regime and growing in strength and credibility."
Twenty of those arrested had supported the Varela Project, a group working for a national referendum on political and
economic reforms in Cuba, which has grown sizably, obtained more than 11,000 signatures and received international praise
and recognition.
The leader of the group Asamblea, which seeks to create nationwide organizations to pursue political reform, was
sentenced to 20 years in prison. Cuba's most prominent independent labor leader was given 25 years.
Some were arrested for running independent libraries of uncensored books or for being independent journalists.
Karen A. Harbert, deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID), said the Cuban government is "desperate and afraid" because "thousands of new voices
throughout the island now call for democratic change, and their numbers are increasing every day."
USAID grants money to organizations that provide guidance and resources to Cuban activists, journalists, librarians and
others. It plans to step up efforts to provide food and medical assistance to the families of the jailed dissidents. Sometimes
families are denied work and assistance by the government.
Mr. Bush last year challenged Cuba to undertake political and economic reforms and promised that if that happened, he
would work with Congress to lift the embargo and travel restrictions.
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Human Rights Activists Jailed (english)
17 Apr 2003
The Bush administration is considering a series of steps to punish the Cuban government for
its recent crackdown on dissidents, officials said today.

Among the more drastic are the possibility of cutting off cash payments to relatives in Cuba ‚?" a mainstay for millions of
Cubans ‚?" or halting direct flights to the island, the officials said.

President Bush is likely to make a public statement soon about the crackdown, which has stirred grave concern among Cuba
policy experts here and dampened the hopes of lawmakers and others seeking to ease the current trade sanctions.

At the same time, the president is expected to issue a stern warning to the Havana government that the United States will not
tolerate another exodus of rafters, the officials said. Several times during Mr. Castro's 44-year tenure, most notably in 1980
and 1994, he has relieved internal tensions by allowing mass migrations to Florida.

In recent weeks, the Castro government has jailed nearly 100 government critics, independent journalists, human rights
advocates and others, and sentenced many of them to lengthy prison terms. In addition, Havana last week executed three
men who commandeered a ferry and sought to reach the United States, the third such hijacking attempt in a month.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Tuesday that Cuba "has always had a horrible human rights record," but, he
added, "It's getting worse."

"When you look at what they have done in recent weeks and recent months with respect to stifling dissent, with respect to
arresting people and sentencing them to long years in prison, in jail, just for expressing a point of view that is different from
that of Fidel Castro, it should be an outrage to everyone," he said. "It should be an outrage to every leader in this hemisphere,
every leader in this world."

Administration officials said they were preparing a variety of options for the president, and no final decisions have been made.
The harshest sanctions involve restricting or eliminating the transfer of cash payments, called remittances, to friends and
relatives on the island. The payments, sent primarily from South Florida exiles, are a lifeline to millions of Cubans and, with
estimates as high as $1 billion, a mainstay of the economy.

Also being considered is a move to limit the number of Americans who travel to Cuba by ending direct charter flights
between the countries. Thousands of travelers ‚?" mostly Cuban-Americans visiting family ‚?" board charter flights each
month from Miami, New York and other cities.

The Bush administration has already moved to curb other travel to Cuba, worried that it has increasingly become a popular
tourist destination, especially for those who oppose American policy. Last month, the administration revoked authorization
for travelers engaged in educational programs aimed at increasing contacts between Cubans and Americans.

The Cuban-American community, which has long been a bulwark of support for sanctions, is divided over whether to impose
harsh measures. While some Cuban-American lawmakers back new sanctions, the Cuban American National Foundation,
which is the most influential exile lobby, has called for protecting the tenuous links between Cubans here and civil society in
Cuba.

Officials and Cuba specialists offer a number of explanations of why Mr. Castro has unleashed the most sweeping
crackdown on dissidents in years.

Some say the Cuban leader was unnerved by the American-led ouster of an ally, Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Others note that
the dissident community, long marginalized in Cuba, had made some strides in recent months, including the collection of more
than 11,000 signatures on a petition to introduce democratic reforms. The head of the United States mission in Cuba, James
Cason, infuriated Cuban officials by convening meetings of the government critics.

Dagoberto Rodríguez, the chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, which serves as embassy in the absence of
diplomatic ties, said that Mr. Cason and other American diplomats had been bankrolling and organizing dissidents, something
American officials strongly deny.

"The U.S. government is spreading the notion that these people are imprisoned because of their ideas," Mr. Rodríguez said
in an interview. "But they have conspired with the American government."

The repression has deflated efforts to increase contacts through trade and travel to the island. In Congress, majorities in both
chambers favor lifting travel restrictions for Americans and advocate greater trade beyond the authorized sale of food and
medicine.

But the White House opposes such moves and advocates of greater engagement concede that Havana has made their job
much more difficult by locking up its prominent critics.

Officials said that they were also preparing a strong statement for the president to make on illegal immigration. In recent days,
rumors have swirled in various Cuban cities about the prospects for another rafters' exodus.

"We will not tolerate rafters," said one policy maker.