Wednesday, January 11, 2006
By Anthony Boadle
HAVANA (Reuters) - The number of Cubans jailed for political reasons increased to 333 last year and new repression is expected in 2006 as discontent with Cuba’s Communist system grows, the island’s main rights group said on Wednesday.
The nongovernmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said the number of political prisoners rose from 294 at the end of 2004, while 15 jailed dissidents were released on medical parole.
The number of people in jail for their political views could be higher, but there was no way of knowing because Cuba does not allow the International Red Cross access to its “enormous” penal system of more than 200 prisons and internment camps, the group’s annual report said.
“Cuba, along with North Korea, is one of the few countries in the world that prohibits such access,” the report said.
Amnesty International says Cuba has 80 prisoners of conscience, more than any other Western Hemisphere country.
The commission accused Cuban President Fidel Castro of encouraging “acts of repudiation” or hostile demonstrations outside the homes of dissidents to intimidate his critics.
“We can expect a further worsening in the situation of civil, political and economic rights in Cuba this year, because popular discontent will continue to grow,” said the head of the rights group, Elizardo Sanchez.
“The government will respond to discontent—spontaneous or organized—with more repression,” he said.
The veteran rights activist said Cuba’s small dissident movement did not have the organization to channel growing discontent on the island of 11 million.
The fractured pro-democracy movement suffered a major blow in March 2003 when 75 of its leading members were rounded up and jailed for terms of up to 28 years on charges of conspiring with the United States to overthrow Cuba’s one-party state.
Only 15 of them have been released on medical parole.
Castro, 79, routinely labels Cuban dissidents as agents on Washington’s payroll.
A group of wives and mothers of jailed Cuban dissidents—known as the “Ladies in White” because they march dressed in white every Sunday in a silent street protest—won Europe’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, last year.
But authorities did not allow the women to travel to the European Parliament to receive the prize and instead staged hostile acts of repudiation shouting “worm” and other derogatory epithets outside some of their homes, said Dolia Leal, a founder of the group.
Bolstered by economic ties with oil-producing Venezuela and communist China, the Cuban government posted record economic growth of 11.8 percent last year, the highest since it came to power in a 1959 revolution.
But Sanchez said widespread economic hardship, low wages and poor public services are fueling growing discontent.