Cuban police crack down as key anniversaries approach
By Juan O. Tamayo
Cuban police and pro-government mobs cracked down on dissidents across
the island Wednesday to avert protests marking the deaths of political
prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo and four South Florida members of
Brothers to the Rescue.
Security forces were besieging 40 members of the dissident Ladies in
White gathered in the Havana home of their late founder, Laura Pollán,
and arresting other members as they arrived to join them, the women
Several dozen other dissidents were detained in the eastern provinces of
Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo and Holguín to keep them from marking the
two anniversaries, said Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez
Dissidents said the crackdown appeared to be broadest since the same
time last year, and was likely to expand over the next couple of days as
they try to take to the streets for protests marking the five deaths.
Ladies in White leader Bertha Soler said police blocked vehicular
traffic from Pollán's usually busy Neptuno Street at 5 a.m. Wednesday
and had detained several group members arriving to join the 40 women
already inside since Tuesday.
Police also put other members under house arrest to keep them from
heading to Pollán's home and joining in a planned Thursday tribute to
Zapata — singing the national anthem, prayers and sifting through old
photos of him and his family, she added.
"If we have time, and the idea hits us to go outside, we'll do it,"
Soler told El Nuevo Herald by phone from the Pollán home.
Zapata, a political prisoner, died Feb. 23, 2010 after a lengthy hunger
strike to protest prison beatings. The Cuban air force shot down two
Brothers to the Rescue civilian planes over international waters on Feb.
24, 1996, killing all four men aboard.
There was no immediate word on the whereabouts of the top dissident
detained, former political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer García, who on
Tuesday sent out the text message that he keeps pre-typed in his cell
phone: "I have been detained."
Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, who said he
had met with Ferrer in the Cuban capital just before he received the
message, declared Ferrer "kidnapped" because police have said they have
no record of his detention.
An implied threat that pro-Castro mobs will confront any dissidents who
try to stage public protests in the next few days was published
Wednesday in the government-approved blog Cambios en Cuba — Changes in Cuba.
"It is obvious that the Cuban people will not renounce what is without a
doubt their principal right, the defense of the revolution, and will
give the reply appropriate for this type of provocations," it said.
In a separate post, the blog alleged that a meeting of dissidents
Wednesday at the Havana residence of the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba was
designed to instruct the dissidents on how to oppose the communist
"The agents at the service of the empire will be trained once again by
U.S. diplomatic officials on the techniques of non-violent struggle
(and) the way in which they should march on the streets of the Cuban
capital," the post alleged.
"In sum, it is an attempt to synchronize the mechanisms of propaganda
and disinformation dedicated to fooling public opinion and making it
seem as though a Libyan or Kosovo formula is needed in Cuba," it added.
The U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana said no meeting at all was held in
the residence Wednesday.
Sánchez Santa Cruz and other dissidents, meanwhile, reported a string of
arrests around the island, apparently short-term detentions designed to
avert public protests over the next couple of days.
Seven members of the Ladies in White, founded by female relatives of
political prisoners, were detained in eastern province of Santiago as
they tried to travel to Havana to join the main protests there,
And at least nine dissidents and three children were reported detained
as they stood outside a State Security office in the eastern town of
Palma Soriano to demand the release of another dozen opposition
activists detained there on Sunday and Tuesday.
Sara Martha Fonseca, one of Cuba's most aggressive dissidents, reported
Wednesday that police were surrounding her Havana home, where a group of
opposition activists had gathered to mark the two anniversaries.
Police also were reported to be surrounding a group of dissidents who
had gathered in a home in the eastern town of Santa Cruz del Sur with
plans to stage a street march marking the twin anniversaries.
South Florida's Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, meanwhile, issued a
statement praising Zapata and the slain Brothers to the Rescue members
as men "who gave their lives attempting to help the Cuban people."
She added that "when the Cuban regime finally falls and freedom and
democracy flourish on the island, it will be due, in part, to the
sacrifices which each of these brave individuals have made."