US calls for immediate release of government opponents in Cuba
Ladies in White dissident group and the U.S. State Department on
Wednesday criticized detentions of government opponents in Cuba.
By Juan Carlos Chavez
The Ladies in White, mothers and wives of political prisoners, made ??an
urgent appeal Wednesday to the international community to denounce the
Cuban government's crackdown against dozens of opponents and activists
in the east of the island. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., State
Department spokesman Mark Toner demanded the immediate release of those
detained in recent days.
In a statement signed by Ladies in White leader Berta Soler called for
condemnation of the "ferocity" with which authorities acted to silence
Meanwhile in Washington, Toner criticized the lack of security and
vigilance toward peaceful opponents.
"We call upon the Cuban government to release all peaceful civil society
activists immediately," he said.
Toner added: "We particularly condemn that most of those arrests took
place during the pope's visit and with the aim of preventing those
arrested from attending public masses that the pope officiated."
El Nuevo Herald reported Wednesday that Cuban authorities intensified
harassment on Monday and Tuesday of dissidents, arresting dozens of
peaceful opponents in the cities of Palma Soriano and Palmarito de
Cauto, in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.
Among those arrested was José Daniel Ferrer García, president of the
illegal Patriotic Union of Cuba, and his wife, Belkis Cantillo, a member
of Ladies in White.
The worst incident took place in Palma Soriano, when State Security
agents and the police stopped a demonstration and beat up a group of
activists who had gathered in opponent Raumel Vinajera's house, located
in La Concepción neighborhood.
"A total of 24 human-rights activists took to the streets in a peaceful
march in Palma Soriano to request the release of the kid who jumped the
wall during the pope's Mass in Santiago de Cuba. All the demonstrators
were beaten and jailed," said Soler.
She said the attack had the support of the Committees of Defense of the
Revolution and the Quick Response Brigades. Both organizations function
under the umbrella of the authorities and their acts are generally
perpetrated with total impunity.
The dissidents had planned to organize wide protests to demand the
release of three activists, as well as the one from Santiago, Andrés
Carrión Alvarez, 38. On March 26 Carrión shouted "Freedom!" and "Down
with communism!" at the Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba,
minutes before the papal Mass. When he was removed from the square he
was violently beaten with a folded gurney by, among others, a man
wearing the Red Cross uniform.
Carrión's arrest prompted numerous demonstrations of concern inside the
island and abroad. For several days it was impossible to find out his
identity, until a member of the Patriotic Union in Santiago de Cuba
recognized him on Friday. The news circulated widely through the media
and the movement Háblalo sin Miedo (Say It Without Fear).
Guillermo Fariñas, recipient of the European Parliament's Sakharov
Award, said the brutal repression was caused by Carrión's identification
and the intense opposition work of the Patriotic Union of Cuba.
"It's an opportunistic and intolerant attitude by the Cuban government,
which constantly tries to apply force," Fariñas told El Nuevo Herald.
"We hold the Cuban government responsible for the physical integrity and
the lives of Ferrer and Cantillo, among others."
A mob organized by the government surrounded the house of Ferrer and
Cantillo in Palmarito de Cauto. State Security agents emptied their
house during six hours and took away materials and office equipment.
They also cut the service of their cellular phones, and confiscated
books, documents and several articles owned by the family.
Minutes before the raid, Ferrer managed to make a dramatic call to
Háblalo sin Miedo and denounced the raid and the violence displayed by
"They are assaulting my house. The political police, all the officers of
the area's political police and other officers from Santiago de Cuba
have just now come to my house and they want to knock down the door,"
said Ferrer, a dissident released last year after eight years in prison.
"This is a difficult situation. We have people who have entered the
house and we will not permit a forced entry into my house."