Cuba: Dissidents were eroding socialist system
By Nancy San Martin. Nsanmartin@herald.com. The Miami
Herald, April 10, 2003.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque Wednesday defended the
government's imprisonment of scores of dissidents as an effort to protect Cuba's
sovereignty in the face of an aggressive U.S. policy.
In a news conference of more than three hours in Havana, Pérez Roque
said the arrests, summary trials and harsh sentences against 75 dissidents were
justified because the principal U.S. diplomat in Cuba, James Cason, was leading
a plan to undermine Communist control of Cuba by supporting groups opposed to
Fidel Castro's government.
''Our patience ran out with Mr. Cason,'' Pérez Roque said. "We
have been patient, we have been tolerant, but we have been obligated to apply
Pérez Roque's detailed presentation on Wednesday was the government's
first substantial response to the trials and the subsequent sentences of 6 to 28
years that have alarmed various nations, human rights groups and press
organizations from around the world.
On Wednesday, human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, one of the few
who remains free, called the arrests "the most intense wave of repression
in the history of Cuba. Rarely has Latin America seen so many people accused for
crimes of opinion.''
Pérez Roque denied that the crackdown was timed to coincide with the
world's preoccupation with the war on Iraq, or was somehow related to a recent
string of hijackings carried out over the past three weeks, including two planes
that made it to Florida and a ferry boat that was towed back to Cuba.
All of the government opponents -- including just one woman -- were
prosecuted on state security charges in trials that were closed to international
reporters and foreign diplomats. The foreign minister bristled at the suggestion
that they were deliberately kept out.
''Who has said that a foreign diplomat has the right to the trial of someone
on trial who is not a citizen of their country?'' Pérez Roque declared. "If
they need information on the trials, they can come to the foreign ministry.''
The Cuban government has accused the independent journalists, pro-democracy
activists, opposition party leaders and other dissidents of receiving U.S. funds
and collaborating with American diplomats to undermine the socialist system.
The repressive action also has spurred efforts to censure Cuba as soon as
next week at the annual gathering of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in
''There are questions about the fairness of such expedited proceedings,''
Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights,
said Wednesday in Geneva. "Cuba must ensure that the accused benefit from
due process, including the right to an adequate defense.''
In an announcement that appeared in Granma, the Communist Party daily, the
government stated that those sentenced would have the right to appeal under
Cuban law -- an indication that punishments might be lessened.
The foreign minister repeated the right to appeals Wednesday. He also said
that the legal proceedings strictly followed Cuban law, with all defendants
represented by attorneys. They all heard the charges against them, had a chance
to respond and in each case both evidence and witnesses were presented in open
court, Pérez Roque added.
As evidence that dissidents were being rewarded financially by the U.S.
government, Pérez Roque presented letters and detailed lists of payments,
among numerous documents, that were linked to U.S. funds. Many of the payments
mentioned appeared to come from Miami- or Washington-based groups that receive
funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
''It's no different from what the United States does all over the world,''
said Joe Garcia, executive director of the Miami-based Cuban American National
Foundation. "These are public funds that go to nonprofit corporations.''
The CANF, which has repeatedly been accused by Cuba of trying to subvert its
system, does not receive U.S. funds. However, it regularly provides private aid
to Cuba in a variety of ways -- from supporting soup kitchens to providing
materials such as pencils and books. Recently, the group sent money to families
of dissidents caught in the island-wide dragnet.
''Fidel Castro has said he will strangle, that there is no oxygen for these
people in Cuba,'' Garcia said. "What we are giving them is oxygen.''
During Pérez Roque's presentation, authorities showed various video
recordings, including several of state security agents who had posed as
dissidents and revealed their true identities during last week's trials.
Independent journalist Néstor Baguer, who revealed last week he was
really a government spy known as ''Octavio,'' told a government interviewer in
one tape that his colleagues in the dissident press received money from groups
in the United States linked to the government.
''They are not journalists,'' Baguer said of Cuba's independent press. "They
are information terrorists.''
This report was supplemented with material from The
New purpose for embargo foes
Cuba defends its crackdown
By Nancy San Martin. Nsanmartin@herald.com. Posted on Thu, Apr. 10, 2003.
Critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba say the recent crackdown against
dissidents on the island offers fresh proof that easing the economic and travel
embargo is necessary in order to reduce Cuba's isolation.
''Right now, Fidel Castro has the only microphone out there; let's make it
more difficult for the Castro regime to keep control of the situation,'' said
Rep. Jeff Flake, a conservative Republican from Arizona, who plans to propose
legislation again this year to prohibit the use of U.S. funds to enforce the
Flake is among a group of lawmakers whose anti-embargo position had been
gaining momentum before the Cuban government dealt a crushing blow to the
opposition movement by a sudden decision to imprison scores of dissidents for
terms of up to 28 years for alleged subversion.
Cuba vigorously defended its action Wednesday, saying the summary trials and
heavy sentences were justified by the need to protect itself from outside
efforts to change its system. Cuba has accused the independent journalists,
pro-democracy activists, opposition party leaders and other opponents of
receiving U.S. funds and collaborating with American diplomats in Havana to
undermine the socialist system.
Even as moderates have joined the chorus of world-wide condemnation against
the arrests, they say maintaining or tightening current policy would further
harm to those on the island.
''Now, more than ever, we are committed to opening,'' said Silvia Wilhelm,
founder of an anti-embargo group that works on individual contacts with Cuban
residents. "We believe all these actions are in part related to the
isolation and this rhetoric of aggression and war.''
Still, moderates acknowledge that it will be more difficult to persuade the
Bush administration to lift sanctions in the wake of the arrests. The State
Department already has issued strong remarks against the Cuban government, and
officials have said a more explicit response is being drafted.
''We're constantly looking at the situation down there and making
adjustments that are appropriate to the circumstances,'' said Charles Barclay, a
State Department spokesman.
Already, pressure is building for the Bush administration to take drastic
measures in response to the crackdown.
''It's over for words and condemnations,'' said Ninoska Pérez Castellón
of the Miami-based Cuban Liberty Council, which is advocating a suspension of
all remittances and travel to Cuba, as well as, the imposition of multilateral
sanctions and a preemptive warning that would result in a naval blockade if a
mass exodus out of the island were to ensue.
Dennis Hays of the Cuban American National Foundation said critics of the
U.S. embargo face strong opposition.
''Who, with a straight face could actually propose rewarding Castro at this
point?,'' he said.
Flake -- who, along with most all lawmakers in both the House and Senate,
voted in favor of resolutions condemning the Cuban government's actions -- said
he and others do not view the lifting of sanctions as a reward but rather as a
way to undermine the Cuban government.
''Everything that is happening in Cuba, is happening under the old policy,''
Flake said. "It hasn't changed Castro one bit. He's still a thug.''
Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of the Miami-based Cuba Study Group, said this
is a time for reflection and analysis, "to cultivate a positive response.''
"We need to send a message to the Cuban people that is more
conciliatory, a message that urges possible reformers in the government to
continue to push for peaceful, democratic change. We need to strengthen what is
left of the opposition.''
Alfredo Duran, an activist who opposes the embargo, said: "The
government will change and Cuba will still be there.''
A Pulitzer For Nilo Cruz
Posted on Thu, Apr. 10, 2003
A 19th Century Russian novel planted the seed. A Coral Gables stage helped
it germinate. Now it's in full bloom: Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics won the
It is a dazzlingly high honor. We give Mr. Cruz, born in Cuba and reared in
New York, our heartfelt congratulations.
Inspired by Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Mr. Cruz pays tribute to the Cuban
pioneers of Tampa's Ybor City. Early last century, men labored in the cigar
factories in that Spanish-Cuban enclave. The lectors, educated and literate,
read aloud newspapers, journals or Shakespearean plays as the others worked.
These readings helped the workers transcend their limited horizons.
The New Theater commissioned Anna in the Tropics last year. The theater also
deserves applause -- and fervent community support -- for its foresight and
faith in the playwright.
Mr. Cruz's play won the Pulitzer solely on the strength of its script. It
was the only play in contention that judges didn't see performed first.
Anna in the Tropics is a work about imperiled heritage and lost traditions.
Its seed may be rooted in another time, but the play clearly remains timeless
Bravo, Mr. Cruz.