Dissidents in Cuba
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March 2006
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Rights activists mark anniverary of Cuba crackdown

Sunday March 19, 10:47 AM

Rights activists mark anniverary of Cuba crackdown

HAVANA (AFP) – Wives, mothers and daughters of Cuban political prisoners
marched in Havana to mark the third anniversary of Cuba’s worst
crackdown on dissidents in years.

About 30 “Ladies in White” fasted Saturday and marched to demand the
release of 60 political prisoners still behind bars three years after 75
dissidents were rounded up.

“There are a lot of situations like this around the world, but Cuba is
the country that has the greatest number of prisoners of conscience” per
capita, said Laura Pollan.

Pollan’s husband Hector Maseda is serving a 20-year prison term for
opposing the government of President Fidel Castro, the only one-party
Communist regime in the Americas.

The group, dressed in white and wearing ribbons reading “Amnesty,”
marched two kilometers (one mile) through Havana, including down busy
23rd Street. They handed out pink gladiolas to passers-by.

“Human rights basically have been dead in our country for three years,”
Pollan said. “Physically, I am tired. But I am still fighting, as long
as I am alive and my husband is jailed, I am going to keep fighting.”

The women called on governments, non-governmental organizations and
rights groups to declare March 18 International Day of the Political
Prisoner and Prisoner of Conscience.

They also read letters written by their husbands from prison and from
other non-governmental groups sending their support.

Between March 18-20, 2003, authorities rounded up about 100 dissidents
and independent journalists.

Of those, 75 were quickly tried and sentenced to between six and 28
years in prison, including Cuba’s best-known female dissident, economist
Martha Beatriz Roque. Of those, 15 were gradually freed between April
2004 and December 2005.

Last year the Ladies in White won the European Parliament’s prestigious
Sakharov human rights prize.

They say their demands are not political. But the Cuban government
accuses them of being funded by the United States.

“The Ladies in White bother the government,” said activist Berta Soler.
“The Sakharov prize gave us the recognition, an international support
that bothers them.”

“We really appreciate support,” added Miriam Leiva, wife of dissident
Oscar Espinosa Chepe. “It has been three years of harassment,” she charged.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation says
that the number of political prisoners in Cuba, with a population
topping 11 million, has surged to more than 330, from 240 in March 2003.

Castro has slammed the European Union as hypocritical for addressing
human rights, and for allegedly bowing to US interests.

Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1989, was a Russian nuclear physicist and
civil rights campaigner who helped develop a hydrogen bomb before
campaigning against nuclear proliferation. He was awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize in 1975 for championing human rights in the Soviet Union.


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