The Miami Herald
February 17, 2000
Castro's crackdown worsens, critics say


 A Cuban government crackdown on dissent has grown so harsh -- including brief
 kidnappings, secret jails and a threatened clandestine execution -- that human
 rights activists are calling it the worst in a decade.

 Police briefly detained 304 dissidents, restricted the movements of another 201
 and have been holding 22 more for possible trials since early November, Cuba's
 foremost human rights monitor, Elizardo Sanchez, said Wednesday.

 Prosecutors are seeking a 10-year prison term for the government's most
 prominent critic, Oscar Elias Biscet, and recently won a six-month term for Victor
 Arroyo, a dissident accused of giving children toys sent by exiles.

 The crackdown comes at a time when President Fidel Castro appears
 increasingly worried about the level of discontent on the island and the recognition
 that dissidents have been winning in Cuba and abroad.

 Police patrols in Havana, which rose dramatically in January 1999 amid
 government complaints of a growing crime wave, have intensified further since late
 November, said several residents of the Cuban capital.

 ``Where two policemen used to stand in a corner, you now have four,'' Sanchez

 Eight foreign heads of government and foreign ministers made a point of meeting
 with Sanchez and other dissidents during a summit meeting Nov. 15-16 of Latin
 American, Spanish and Portuguese leaders in Havana.

 Cuban officials deny any crackdown.

 ``This is an invention, said Luis Fernandez, spokesman for the Cuban diplomatic
 mission in Washington. ``I know nothing about any such numbers, but my
 country would never permit the existence of any counterrevolutionary group that
 could threaten our national security.

 Sanchez, a former professor of Marxism considered the most moderate and
 accurate of Cuba's human rights activists, said his numbers are clear -- 121 brief
 detentions in November, 141 in December and 42 in January. The numbers for
 February are running about the same as January, he said.


 ``Our data makes this the worst wave of repression in 10 years, he told The
 Herald in a telephone interview from Havana. Sanchez's report is expected to
 bolster an attempt to condemn Cuba at the annual U.N. Human Rights
 Commission meeting next month in Geneva.

 Sanchez said he was particularly concerned by some of the new and allegedly
 unlawful methods that Cuba's secret state security police have been using to
 harass and intimidate dissidents.

 Many of those detained for brief periods were not taken to official police stations
 or jails but to secret ``security houses around Havana in what Sanchez called
 ``caricatures of kidnappings.'

 Police who ordered the 201 dissidents to stay at home or away from Havana
 during some scheduled meetings of dissidents showed no orders from any judges
 or prosecutors, he added.


 In another effort to silence critics on the island, an unusually large number of
 dissidents have been receiving long-denied government permission to leave Cuba,
 said Ruth Montaner, a Miami exile active in supporting dissident groups in Cuba.

 Cuba -- which has long boasted that dissidents are never tortured, disappeared or
 murdered, unlike practices in other parts of Latin America -- has also seen a
 small number of incidents involving violence or death threats.

 Brothers Guido and Ariel Sigler suffered broken ribs after a pro-government mob
 attacked them after a December meeting of their Alternative Option Movement in
 the north-central town of Pedro Betancourt, Montaner said.

 Sanchez said he received a signed complaint from Nestor Rodriguez, head of
 Youths for Democracy, accusing police of a threatened execution.


 After detaining Rodriguez on Dec. 27 in the eastern city of Santiago, police drove
 him in the dead of night to an isolated field about 15 miles outside the city while
 showing him their pistols and saying they were going to kill him, Rodriguez
 charged. They abandoned him in the field.

 Sanchez and several other leading dissidents signed a letter to the government
 last week demanding proper medical treatment for Marta Beatriz Roque, a jailed
 opposition leader suffering from a serious ailment.

 Roque, Vladimiro Roca, Felix Bonne and Rene Gomez Manzano are serving jail
 terms ranging from 3 1/2 to 5 years on charges of sedition -- issuing a declaration
 attacking the Cuban Communist Party's monopoly on power.

 ``It is a return to the bad old days, where even medical treatment is used as part
 of the government's psychological war against dissidents, said Montaner, who
 has kept close tabs on Roque's health problems.


 Many of the dissidents complain that the crackdown has been overshadowed by
 the media coverage of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old shipwreck survivor at the
 heart of a custody battle between his father in Cuba and relatives in Miami.

 ``I have never seen a wave of repression so long and harsh that has drawn so little
 attention from the international media, said Hector Palacios of the Democratic
 Solidarity Party in Havana. ``We have been forsaken.

 But just why the Cuban government launched the crackdown on dissent remains

 Palacios said it may have been triggered by all of the attention the foreign leaders
 and journalists gave to government critics during the IberoAmerican summit,
 sometimes jokingly called ``the dissidents' summit.

 Others speculate that the trigger was the recent growth in the number and
 organization of dissidents -- from about 10 dissidents in 1987 to about 1,000
 today, aligned with 60 to 80 groups.

 Cuba now has groupings of dissident teachers, physicians, journalists, farmers,
 lawyers, Christians, economists and librarians.

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald