By Marc Frank | Reuters
Cuba branded the country’s best-known dissidents on Wednesday as U.S. agents, using taped phone conversations, secret video footage and guilt by association during a televised broadcast to portray them as traitors.
Longtime activists Osvaldo Paya, Martha Beatriz Roque and female relatives of already imprisoned government opponents, known as “the Ladies in White,” bore the brunt of a 90-minute state-run television show during which official journalists used what appeared to be intelligence service materials in an attempt to discredit them.
“They are a mix of parasites, habitual vagabonds, chameleons and ruffians, lacking charisma and mass support, that serve as an instrument of the empire,” show moderator Randy Alonso said of the dissidents.
The show, called the round table, features local journalists and officials presenting the government’s positions on various topics.
“This could be setting the stage for more imprisonments and repression but at the same time Cubans learned who we are,” Roque told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Cuba’s small opposition movement is rarely mentioned by the official and only media in the country and regularly branded by officials as in the hire of the United States.
Wednesday’s broadcast was unusually virulent and followed a Tuesday broadcast that accused U.S. mission chief Michael Parmly of using the dissidents to carry out the Bush administration’s declared goal of ousting President Fidel Castro from power.
The United States and Cuba, bitter foes since Castro led a revolution to power in 1959, do not have diplomatic relations but maintain lower-level Interests Sections in each others’ capitals.
Parmly succeeded James Cason, now U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, whose confrontational style and open support for dissidents was given as the reason for the imprisonment of 75 dissidents two years ago on charges of working with Washington to overthrow the government.
TAPED PHONE CALLS
“Look, if this costs the government a Yankee invasion its all the same to me,” Roque was heard saying in an apparently taped phone conversation on Wednesday’s show, after which video was shown of her purchasing goods in exclusive hard-currency stores.
Roque, who leads the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, an umbrella group that held an unprecedented opposition gathering on May 20 in Havana, was portrayed as strongly supporting U.S. President George W. Bush and receiving money from Cuban exiles in the United States, which the show branded “Miami terrorists,” and squandering it on herself.
Paya, whose Varela Project petition drive garnered thousands of signatures for a referendum on Communist rule a few years ago, was branded “an impudent conspirator” as photos were shown of him meeting in an apparently clandestine way with persons linked to the U.S. Agency for International Development masquerading as tourists.
“This man has participated in clandestine activities promoted by Parmly and the Interests Section,” said journalist Arlene Rodriguez, charging Paya was paid to coordinate courses to train future Cuban leaders.