Monday, February 28, 2011

Cuba: Dissidents caught in crackdown

The Cuban government allegedly agreed to free eight additional political prisoners aside from a group of 52 who have slowly been released since last year. Dissidents on the island, however, have accused authorities of targeting them as part of a crackdown.

Roughly 100 dissidents were either arrested or put under house arrest in the same week that activists commemorated the one-year anniversary of the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata. The most notable of these detentions was the brief arrest of former hunger striker Guillermo Farinas who “shouted anti-government slogans” from the rooftop of his house. “I believe that the best tribute we can give to Zapata was for the government to be forced to mobilize its repressors,” Farinas said to the press after his 27-hour arrest.

The tense atmosphere continued over the weekend when state television showed a documentary critical of the Ladies in White dissident group. The film accused them of receiving funds from the U.S. government to fund their activities. Hence, it should come as no surprise that pro-government demonstrators confronted the Ladies in White as they marched through Havana yesterday.

U.S. President Barack Obama said last week that the February 2010 death of Zapata after a lengthy hunger strike brought attention to "the ongoing mistreatment of those unjustly held by Cuban authorities". Cuban state newspaper Granma would subsequently bash Obama by claiming he was being manipulated by Cuban-American exile organizations.

Human rights groups tried to bring additional attention to the crackdown on the Cuban opposition. Amnesty International denounced the harassment of Zapata’s relatives including “preventing his family from properly celebrating his life.” According to Human Rights Watch:
"A year after Zapata's tragic death, this latest wave of arrests shows the Cuban government continues to deny its citizens the basic freedoms of assembly and speech," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch…

"Through arbitrary detentions, physical abuse, and threats, the Cuban government has once again shown its willingness to repress its citizens who participate in the most basic civic activities," Vivanco said.
Image- AP via BBC News (“Pro- and anti-government protesters clashed in Havana on the anniversary of Mr. Zapata's death.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, ABC News, LAHT, AFP, Gulf Times, CBS News, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch

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