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Posted May 07, 2003 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By Isabel Garcia-Zarza | Reuters

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has placed in solitary confinement most of the 75 people imprisoned in a recent crackdown on dissent that drew international condemnation, a human rights organisation says.

“The immense majority, 60 in all, are in solitary confinement in the punishment wards of the country’s maximum security prisons,” said Elizardo Sanchez, president of the illegal, but tolerated, Cuban Human Rights Commission.

The dissidents were rounded up in late March, charged with working with the United States to overthrow the communist government and sentenced to an average of 19 years in prison after one-day trials closed to foreign diplomats and journalists.

Local human rights activists said the crackdown on Cuba’s small, but growing, democracy movement was the worst in decades. The arrests brought protests from governments, human rights organisations and others world-wide.

The United States, Canada and the European Union are those threatening to take unspecific action against Havana if the dissidents are not released. Their sentences are under appeal.

Sanchez said on Tuesday the dissidents were being held in “inhuman conditions” in small cells where they received water and food “that does not meet minimum sanitary requirements”.

Sanchez, whose group has monitored Cuban prison conditions for years, said writer and poet Raul Rivero and leading dissidents Hector Palacios and Oscar Elias Biscet were among those in solitary confinement.

The wives of some of the dissidents confirmed Sanchez’s statement, a few saying their husbands were being punished for not cooperating with prison authorities.

“He told me it was a very narrow cell. He has lost 30 pounds,” Raul Rivero’s wife, Blanca Reyes, said, after visiting her husband in central Ciego de Avila province.

Sanchez said many of the dissidents were sent to prisons far from their homes, making family visits difficult.

It was impossible to confirm the reports with Cuban authorities. They rarely comment on prison conditions and consider dissidents to be mercenaries and counterrevolutionaries working for the United States.

Washington and Havana have been bitter foes since President Fidel Castro swept to power in a 1959 revolution. The United States has maintained a trade embargo on the Caribbean island for more than four decades.

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