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6/22/04 - A CRACKDOWN IN CUBA - 2004-06-23

Human rights abuses continue in Communist Cuba. Oswaldo Paya is the leader of the Varela project, a peaceful movement calling for a national referendum on political and economic reforms in Cuba. Mr. Paya told the Reuters news agency that agents of the Fidel Castro regime are harassing Varela project activists by making threats and seizing their petitions.

In March and April 2003, seventy-five Cuban independent economists, journalists, and human rights advocates, including several Varela project supporters, were sentenced to prison terms averaging twenty years. They were charged with such activities as associating with representatives of international human rights and humanitarian organizations.

Omar Rodriguez Saludes was sentenced to twenty-seven years in a Castro jail for disseminating a photograph showing poverty in Cuba. Raul Rivero received a twenty-year sentence for “subversion” for, among others things, owning a chair that a U.S. diplomat once sat in.

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet’s crime was his attempt to apply U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s philosophy of non-violence in Cuba. He was attempting to teach other Cubans about international human rights practices. Three other Cubans who had associated with Dr. Biscet were found guilty in May. They had been charged with contempt for authority, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. But their only crime was studying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at a private home in Havana. Orlando Zapata Fajardo Tamayo, Raul Arencibia Fajardo and Virgilio Marante Gulemes were sentenced to three years each in prison.

President George W. Bush says that the U.S. believes “the people of Cuba should be free from tyranny”:

“We believe the future of Cuba is a future of freedom. It’s in our nation’s interest that Cuba be free. It’s in the neighborhood’s interest that Cuba be free. More importantly, it’s in the interest of the Cuban people that they be free from tyranny.”

The U.S. wants “the people of Cuba to hear this message loud and clear,” says President Bush. The U.S. “will make no concessions to tyranny.... We stand strongly with the freedom fighters and the island of Cuba.”