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3/19/04 - CUBAN CRACKDOWN ANNIVERSARY - 2004-03-19

One year ago this month in Cuba, the Communist regime of Fidel Castro launched a massive crackdown on pro-democracy activists. Scores of journalists, economists, and political reformers were detained in a series of targeted sweeps. Some were released, but seventy-five prisoners were subjected to unfair trials and sentenced to prison terms as long as twenty-eight years. Their only crime, says President George W. Bush, was calling for freedom and dignity for the Cuban people:

“Their crimes were to publish newspapers, to organize petition drives, to meet to discuss the future of their country. Cuba’s political prisoners [were] subjected to beatings, and solitary confinement, and the denial of medical treatment.”

The crackdown in Cuba is still being condemned by governments and human rights groups around the world. Amnesty International has issued a new report on Fidel Castro’s actions. After a “detailed review” of the legal cases against the jailed Cubans, says the report, “it is clear that they are prisoners of conscience -- detained for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.”

President Bush has repeatedly called for the release of Cuba’s political prisoners. The Cuban people, he says, should be able to organize, assemble, publish, and speak freely. Human rights organizations should be free to visit Cuba, and there should be free elections:

“Through our democratic example, we must continue to stand with the brave people of Cuba, who for nearly half a century have endured the tyrannies and repression. Dictatorship has no place in the Americas.”

Normalization of relations with Cuba, says Mr. Bush, will only be possible when Cuba has a new government that is democratic, when the rule of law is respected, and when the rights of Cubans are protected.