November 2, 2001

Cuba accused of heightened repression

                HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Cuba has stepped up repression of opposition
                 activities in recent days, making some arrests, cutting phone lines and
                 blocking anti-government journalists from holding a training course,
                 dissidents said on Friday.

                 "Just as the international situation becomes more critical, so does the internal
                 situation in Cuba," said Marcelo Lopez, of a local human rights' group, the Cuban
                 Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

                 Dissidents said six activists from small anti-Castro groups in Havana had been
                 arrested in the last three days in connection with a document called "SOS from
                 inside Cuba" they published for distribution at an upcoming regional summit in

                 In the provincial town of Matanzas, at least one activist was detained, and others
                 had their phones cut, apparently to prevent dissidents attending Thursday's trial of
                 six men accused of supplying the boat for Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez' fatal
                 sea-voyage in 1999, the dissidents said.

                 And an association for dissident reporters, the Manuel Marquez Sterling Journalists'
                 Society, denounced a police operation to prevent it holding journalism and language
                 classes. A communique from the group accused police of threatening, questioning
                 and forcibly removing members of the group seeking to attend the course at a
                 Havana house.

                 "The Taliban regime prohibits women from studying. Cuba does the same to a
                 group of journalists who work independently, outside the official sphere," it said,
                 drawing a comparison between President Fidel Castro's government and the
                 hard-line Muslim rulers of Afghanistan.

                 "Is this the same Revolution which at its outset proclaimed: 'We don't say believe,
                 we say read'? So how can they dare to stop us improving our knowledge of
                 journalism, learning English and improving our Spanish grammar?" it added.

                 Cuba, which denounces all dissidents as counter- revolutionaries at the service of
                 the U.S. government and anti- Castro Cuban American groups, has not commented
                 on the cases. It usually says dissidents are nonrepresentative of the Cuban people,
                 and only have a "virtual reality" existence on the island due to attention paid by
                 foreign media and diplomats.

                 The dissidents seek reforms to Castro's one-party communist system.

                 Some dissidents from little-known groups have called for a march on Saturday in a
                 Havana park to protest alleged rights abuses and to call for the freedom of political
                 prisoners. The march was planned to coincide with the second anniversary of the
                 jailing of activist Oscar Elias Biscet, an Amnesty International prisoner of

                 Still, most dissidents expected Cuban state security to successfully prevent the
                 march from going ahead, as it has often done in the past by rounding up organizers
                 or scheduling pro-government rallies at the same place.

                 Cuba's scattered and marginalized internal dissident movement has made little
                 headway against Castro's grip on power over the last four decades since his 1959
                 revolution. Lopez, of the rights' commission, said local dissident activity
                 traditionally increases around the time of the annual Ibero-American Summit,
                 usually attended by Castro and this time due to be held in Lima, Peru, later in

                 "There was a relative calm, but then there has been an increase in repression and an
                 increase in dissident activity in recent days," he said.

                  Copyright 2001 Reuters.