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8/8/04 - E-U CALLS FOR PRISONER RELEASE - 2004-08-09

The European Union, like the United States, Canada, the Organization of American States and many other international organizations, has called for the immediate release of hundreds of Cuba’s political prisoners. The twenty-five-nation E-U says the dissidents were arrested for "peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, opinion, association, and assembly."

In March 2003, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro ordered the arrests of dozens of dissidents and journalists for allegedly undermining his regime. Seventy-five Cubans were given closed trials and received prison terms of up to twenty-eight years each. Michael Kozak, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, says the crackdown shows that Castro’s Communist government is doing everything in its power to crush dissent:

“The Castro government has long waged war on the basic human rights of its people. Independent voices have been arrested on charges as vague as dangerousness or as clearly political as disrespect for authority. Dissidents are routinely and falsely labeled as foreign spies, mercenaries and agents of the United States.”

Cuba has released a few of the prisoners for health reasons, including prominent economist Marta Beatriz Roque. But the great majority, says Secretary Kozak, remain imprisoned, serving very long terms in squalid conditions on trumped-up charges:

“Omar Rodriguez Saludes was sentenced to twenty-seven years for disseminating a photograph of Cuban poverty. Raul Rivero received twenty years for unspecified subversive activities. Owning a chair that a U.S. diplomat once sat in was cited as evidence against Rivero to justify this charge.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell says Castro’s crackdown on dissent was “calculated to cast a pall on the development of an independent civil society in Cuba.” But, he said, “this has not stopped determined Cubans from casting aside their fears and following the example of these valiant democracy activists.” The U.S. supports the aspirations of all Cubans who long for freedom.