Dissidents in Cuba
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Cuban activists under siege

Posted on Sat, Mar. 18, 2006

Cuban activists under siege
By Gary Marx
Chicago Tribune

SANTA CLARA, Cuba – Three years after the harshest crackdown on dissent
in decades, human rights conditions in Cuba have deteriorated as
authorities intensify a campaign to disrupt and intimidate the island’s
small opposition movement, according to dissidents, diplomats and
political analysts.

Elizardo Sánchez, an opposition activist who heads the Havana-based
Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said the
number of political prisoners in Cuba increased from 306 in early 2005
to 333 in early 2006.

Sánchez said that about 100 pro-government crowd actions, known in Cuba
as “acts of repudiation,” and other attacks have occurred against
opposition figures since July 2005.

“The situation with civil and political rights has worsened in the past
three years,” said Sánchez. “And what’s most worrying for us is that
it seems the situation is going to get even worse.”

Last week, a U.S. State Department report and U.N. expert Christine
Chanet each criticized the human rights situation in Cuba. Chanet also
said tightened U.S. sanctions have created “extreme tension” between
the two nations “which is far from conducive to the development of
freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”

One of the activists targeted by pro-government groups is Noelia
Pedraza, who was participating in a vigil in September for political
prisoners when, she said, an angry crowd cut the lights to her
apartment, shouted insults and threw rocks and eggs.

Since then, Pedraza, a leader of a small opposition group in Santa
Clara, 165 miles east of Havana, said she has been detained by police
and assaulted by pro-government demonstrators while distributing human
rights material in a park.

Cuban officials defend the island’s human rights record by saying they
provide universal education, health care and other services. They
portray the acts of repudiation as spontaneous outpourings of support.

The attacks intensified after a speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro
last July in which he denounced opposition activists as U.S. government
lackeys and praised supporters who two weeks earlier disrupted a
dissident protest in Havana.

“The people, angrier than before over such shameless acts of treason,
intervened with patriotic fervor and didn’t allow a single mercenary to
move,” Castro said.

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/world/14130337.htm

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