Tensions high as Cuba frees dissidents

Cuba has released nine detained political dissidents, including Marta Beatriz Roque, but continues to hold another 17 activists.

    Marta Beatriz Roque called for more anti-government protests

    The nine were released on Saturday, a day after being rounded up in Cuba's latest move against the island's political opposition.

    Roque, a 60-year-old economist, is president of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society (APCS), which had organised a protest in front of the French embassy on Friday to demand the release of political prisoners from Cuban jails.

    Many of those detained on Friday were leading figures in the group.

    Call for protests

    Pallid and visibly fatigued, Roque remained defiant and called for more protests against the government.

    "The way is the street and we are going to use the streets across the country," Roque told foreign reporters in her Havana home.

    Activists had organised a protest
    outside the French embassy

    Opposition groups "are waiting for a new order to launch on to the streets to demand the liberty of our imprisoned brothers", she said.

    Another 17 people detained on Friday remained in government hands, including such prominent dissidents as Rene Gomez Manzano and Felix Bonne Carcaces, said APCS spokesman Angel Polanco.

    The group organised the protest outside the French embassy, they said, because the dissidents had been excluded from joining the embassy's 14 July Bastille Day celebrations.

    Meanwhile, Cuban government officials were invited to the events, symbolising the recent normalisation of relations between the two governments.

    Rising tension

    On Saturday, Francoise Hostalier, a French human rights advocate, encouraged Paris to press Cuba to free the remaining jailed dissidents.

    "France is directly involved in these detentions," she said.

    Tensions in Cuba are growing
    ahead of a national holiday

    Vladimiro Roca, member of the opposition group Todos Unidos, said the government was nervous about the increasing disquiet among the Cuban people over the weak economy, power outages and food shortages before the country's 26 July national day festival.

    "The social tension is climbing. The government is tense, even more so because the main ceremony on 26 July - the day of the National Revolution - will be in Havana," said Roca.


    The roundup of dissidents was the second this month.

    About 30 people were arrested in Havana on 13 July during a demonstration commemorating the drowning death in 1994 of 41 people who were trying to flee Cuba by boat. Six of the 30 are still behind bars, dissident sources said.

    Washington condemned the
    crackdown on the dissidents

    The roundups were the largest sweep since 2003, when the government jailed 75 members of the opposition.

    Roque, founder of the APCS and the only woman among the 75 imprisoned, was sentenced at the time to 20 years in jail.

    She was released for health reasons one year ago, suffering from diabetes, hypertension and partial paralysis of the face. She also spent three years in jail between 1997 and 2000.

    Rights violation

    Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, called the arrests on Friday "absolutely arbitrary" and a "flagrant violation of human rights".

    Washington also condemned the crackdown.

    "Their only crime was attempting to exercise their basic human rights and freedoms," said Adam Ereli, the State Department's deputy spokesman.

    "We call on the Cuban government to end this deplorable repression and immediately free all of those arrested. We urge other countries to join us in condemning these acts," Ereli added.



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