Dissidents in Cuba
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January 2007
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With Raul at helm, Cuban dissidents have little hope of major changes

With Raul at helm, Cuban dissidents have little hope of major changes
Web posted at: 1/24/2007 3:1:49
Source ::: AFP

HAVANA • With power transferred to Fidel Castro's brother Raul, Cuban
dissidents have begun testing the island's political waters after
decades of ironclad rule, but found little hope of fundamental changes.

"I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel," said Martha Beatriz
Roque, the "iron lady" of Cuban dissidents.

The almost six months since Raul Castro, 75, was named acting president
by his ailing brother, were marked by "a continuation of the
totalitarian regime," she said.

"We are still being repressed," said Roque.

After almost five decades under the tight grip of Fidel Castro, 80, who
called them "mercenaries" at the service of the United States,
government opponents initially kept a low-profile when the ailing
strongman handed over to his younger brother on July 31, four days after
undergoing intestinal surgery.

The dissidents have since become increasingly vocal, distributing
statements to foreign media, politicians, governments and human rights

But they also remained cautious, and pessimistic of significant reforms
under the younger Castro, who has stressed the Communist Party is the
true successor to his older brother in whose shadow he has lived since
the 1959 revolution.

Other than Sunday masses attended by the white-clad wives of political
prisoners, the opposition's only public demonstration under Raul Castro
brought together 14 government critics who faced insults and some
shoving from about 200 furious Castro supporters in a Havana park.

"We are still waiting to see what happens, but after six months of ups
and downs, the tension is still there," said Elizardo Sanchez, a leading
opponent of the communist regime.

He said nothing short "of a true political miracle" would bring about an
improvement in the human rights situation on the Caribbean island.

Sanchez admits there has been a drop in the number of political
prisoners last year, but claims this is just a new strategy by the
government, which now favors short but frequent detentions and
intimidation rather than long prison terms.

The illegal but tolerated Human Rights Commission that Sanchez leads
says there were 283 political prisoners at the end of 2006, 50 fewer
than the previous year.

"We still face days of tension, particularly for us since our husbands
are still prisoners of 'Doctor Castro' and nobody dares do anything with
them until his fate is decided and Raul definitely takes power," says
Laura Pollan, of the "Ladies in White" group.

For now, the prisoners "as well as the entire country, will remain in a
limbo, that is why we don't expect any to be released," said Pollan.

The government did free, for health reasons, Hector Palacios one of the
government's harshest critics, who was arrested alongside 74 other
dissidents in May 2003.

"Nothing has happened in Cuba, I see no changes," said Palacios, 63, who
was released last month while serving a 25-year term.

Another 15 of the 75 prisoners had been let go in the two previous
years, also for health reasons.

The death on January 10 of Miguel Valdes Tamayo, who had been released
in 2004, galvanized the opposition.

"We demand that the government free all prisoners and stop the
harassment," said Roque, an economist who was also among the released

Moderate dissident Manuel Cuesta is among the few members of the
fractious opposition who sees improvements, saying "a relative drop in
repression" has slightly eased tension, facilitating efforts to
strengthen "cohabitation between the government and the opposition."


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