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Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Cuba dissident trials draw fire

April 9, 2003

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— Governments and human rights activists around the world condemned Cuba's crackdown on the opposition, saying Tuesday that the quick trials and long prison sentences flagrantly violated international norms.

The crackdown is "the natural expression of a dictatorship that has been oppressing human rights for years," Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, a longtime critic of President Fidel Castro, said during a visit to Madrid.

By Tuesday, local human rights activists confirmed that at least 75 members of the opposition had been prosecuted on state security charges in summary trials lasting no more than one day each. The known sentences for about half of them ranged from 15 to 27 years; the remaining sentences were expected by week's end.

"We are witnessing the harshest political trials of the past decade," said veteran activist Elizardo Sanchez, among the few leading government opponents not arrested last month.

Some of the longest sentences were reserved for independent journalists, including 27 years for reporter and photographer Omar Rodriguez Saludes; and 20 years each for poet and writer Raul Rivero, magazine editor Ricardo Gonzalez, and economics writer Oscar Espinosa Chepe.

A lawsuit on behalf of Rodriguez Saludes was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Miami, accusing Castro and other Cuban leaders of torture and unfairly convicting him in a closed-door trial.

The Cuban government accused the independent journalists -- along with pro-democracy activists, opposition party leaders and other dissidents -- of collaborating with U.S. diplomats to undermine the socialist state.

Condemnation of the sentencing came in from around the world.

In Toronto, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham called in the Cuban ambassador to deliver a letter of protest. And Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh warned the crackdown could harm Cuba's prospects for more cooperation with the European Union and said she viewed the trials "with great concern."

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