Two years ago, the Communist regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro arrested over one hundred people and, in summary trials, sentenced seventy-five of them to prison terms ranging from six to twenty-eight years.
Those jailed were pro-democracy advocates. Their only crime was to demand fundamental rights for the Cuban people. Many of those sent to prison were supporters of the nonviolent Varela Project. This was a campaign calling for a referendum on the reform of Cuba's government.
Twenty-five-thousand Cubans signed two petitions in support of the referendum. The petitions were submitted to Cuba's national assembly but were ignored. Instead, the Castro regime cracked down on those involved with the democracy movement.
Among them were Hector Palacious and Oscar Elias, each sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Paul Rivero and Marta Beatriz Roque were given twenty-year terms. In August 2004, Cuban authorities detained Nivaldo Diaz Castello, another Varela project leader. He was threatened and stripped of all his belongings before being released.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli says that since the Castro regime seized power in 1959, it has refused to allow any kind of political opening or to accord basic rights to Cuban citizens:
"The United States and others in the international community will not allow these champions of human rights to be forgotten nor will we let their courageous action in pursuit of freedom be in vain."
The U.S. State Department's most recent human rights report documents many ongoing abuses carried out directly or indirectly by the Castro regime. In April 2004, the Havana home of Henry Samuel, president of the Cuban pro-democracy group the Republican Alternative Movement, was pelted with jars of human excrement. Elsa Morejon reported that during the year large groups of people gathered around her house, screaming profanities and insulting her husband, human rights activist Oscar Elias Biscet. In April 2003, he was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for peacefully staging a hunger strike in his own home.
Those who speak out in favor of basic rights in Cuba continue to face prison and abuse. "The Cuban people," says State Department spokesman Ereli, "deserve a government committed to democracy and the full observance of human rights."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.