The Miami Herald
March 17, 1999

Canada, Spain condemn Cuba's sentencing of four dissidents

             From Herald Wire Services

             The governments of Canada and Spain on Tuesday rejected the sentences
             imposed by a Cuban court against four dissidents convicted of sedition.

             ``Regrettable'' was the adjective Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and
             Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar both used when referring to the
             punishment ordered Monday for Vladimiro Roca, Rene Gomez Manzano, Felix
             Bonne and Marta Beatriz Roque.

             Roca, son of the late Communist Party leader Blas Roca, was sentenced to five
             years. Gomez Manzano and Bonne received four years, and Beatriz Roque was
             sentenced to 3 1/2 years. All were charged with sedition.

             Chretien did not go so far as to threaten a total break with Havana. Speaking with
             reporters in Ottawa after a Cabinet meeting, he suggested there is still room for

             ``We have a strategy of constructive participation, and when something like that
             happens, we have some flexibility. We can react,'' he said. ``If we didn't have
             relations with [Cuba], we couldn't react.''

             Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy addressed the Cuban government
             obliquely, saying that ``if you're going to be a member of the hemispheric
             community, then you have to play by the rules. The willingness to accept some
             form of political dissent or difference of opinion is one of those rules.''

             Canada ``will be reviewing some of the discussions that we started last January
             about hemisphere integration,'' Axworthy said, alluding to a proposal to bring
             Cuba into the Organization of American States.

             In Madrid, Aznar described the sentences as ``incomprehensible,'' ``heavy and
             harsh,'' and said they represented a ``profound and regrettable backward step of
             the situation in Cuba.'' He warned that they might lead Spain's royal couple to
             cancel their visit to Cuba, scheduled for spring.

             ``It would be my wish that [King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia] might go, but our
             political duty is to make sure that all the circumstances are favorable,'' Aznar said.

             ``It is not by happenstance that the royal couple haven't traveled to Cuba in 24
             years,'' he added. ``Therefore, this trip should not be made casually, either.''

             Aznar's views were echoed by Guillermo Cortazar, a legislator for the ruling
             Popular Party who is also president of the Spanish-Cuban Foundation.

             ``Under these circumstances of conviction and repression, it does not seem proper
             for the announced visit by the royal couple to take place,'' he said, ``unless an
             immediate pardon is granted to the four defendants.''

             In Rome on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of the Left, Cesari
             Salvi, said that a group of Italian senators scheduled to visit Cuba this month
             should be allowed to meet with the imprisoned dissidents.

             ``We must express concern and alarm at . . . the sentences,'' Salvi said. ``The
             struggle for civil rights does not have and should not have geographic or political

             In Brazil, lawmaker Marcos Rolim of the leftist Workers Party said the trial ``is a
             blot on the conscience of nations and a farce. It demonstrated that in Cuba there is
             a totalitarian regime that respects nothing.'' Thirteen Workers Party legislators
             condemned the trial last week and asked the Brazilian Foreign Ministry to file an
             official protest with Havana.

             In Argentina, the president of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Association, Hebe
             de Bonafini, said she and her organization are against ``any kind of persecution
             [or] detention of political dissidents in any part of the world.''

             An editorial in the Uruguayan daily El Observador said that ``few doubts remain
             about the Cuban system'' because ``the regime is clearly a dictatorship, plain and

             In Washington, Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., wrote to the Baltimore Orioles
             asking them to cancel their games against the Cuban national baseball team to
             express disapproval of the Cuban court's ruling. The games are scheduled for
             March 28 in Havana and May 3 in Baltimore.

             ``If the government of the United States, Orioles owner Pete Angelos and the
             Major League Players Association go ahead with their plans to play the scheduled
             exhibition games, they will be legitimizing and giving money to a regime that's
             determined to silence any opposition to its Communist system,'' Menendez wrote.