detains at least 21 dissidents: activist
HAVANA, Sep 28 (AFP) - Cuba has cracked
down on a bold demonstration organized by
the leading woman dissident in the Americas'
only communist-ruled country.
At least 21 Cuban dissidents were detained
and prevented from joining the protest outside
the Justice Ministry in Havana Thursday
led by prominent activist Martha Beatriz
Roque, whom police took home by force, Roque
Roque, an economist who has been twice
jailed for her opposition to the ruling
Communist Party, and five other protesters
went to the ministry to deliver a letter
to Justice Minister Maria Esther Reus demanding
better treatment for political prisoners.
During the protest, Roque said a crowd
of about 100 government supporters gathered
across the street to taunt them, calling
them "mercenaries" and "worms,"
everyday insults the government uses for
foes of the one-party system.
Soon after "some 15 agents of state
security and three women police officers
forced me onto a bus," she said. Police
then dropped her off at her home.
Two of those detained with Roque belonged
to the group "Women in White,"
comprised of wives of political prisoners.
The group was "pushed aboard"
the bus and "verbally mistreated"
and also driven home, Roque said.
The officer in charge told Roque that police
were protecting her from "the wrath
of the people," the activist said.
Roque told AFP that the group of 21 detainees
included Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, who was
released in April after 17 years in prison
for political offenses.
According to the dissidents there are 250
political prisoners in Cuba, a number that
has decreased during the 14-month interim
presidency of Raul Castro.
The Cuban government however denies there
are political prisoners, or dissidents as
such, claiming that those who oppose it
are being paid by the United States.
US President George W. Bush, in a speech
to the UN General Assembly in New York Tuesday,
called for "free and competitive elections"
in Cuba, saying the long rule of ailing
President Fidel Castro "is nearing
"In Cuba, the long rule of a cruel
dictator is nearing its end," he told
world leaders gathered here, in a reference
"The Cuban people are ready for their
freedom," he added, stressing as the
communist-ruled island enters a period of
transition, "The United Nations must
insist on free speech, free assembly and
ultimately free and competitive elections."
The United States and Cuba do not have
full diplomatic relations. The United States
has a trade embargo on Havana stretching
back 45 years.
Fidel Castro underwent intestinal surgery
on July 27, 2006, and has not been seen
in public since. Just after the operation
he "provisionally" handed power
to his brother Raul, Cuba's longtime number
two, though Cuban authorities insist the
veteran leader is still involved in major