Cuban police have detained more than 100 dissidents and put another 100 to 150 under house arrest in an island-wide crackdown to block any gatherings marking International Human Rights Day on Monday, according to government opponents.
Among those detained were about 80 members and supporters of the Ladies in White, including dozens who were reportedly carted off roughly during roundups in Havana and on their way to the Our Lady of Charity Basilica in the eastern town of El Cobre.
Security agents also sealed off several homes in eastern Cuba to avert gatherings of dissidents to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, head of the opposition Cuban Patriotic Union.
The U.S. government swiftly denounced the arrests, saying it was “deeply concerned by the Cuban government’s repeated use of arbitrary detention and violence to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly and intimidate independent civil society.”
“We call on the Cuban government to end” the arrests and violence “and we look forward to the day when all Cubans can freely express their ideas,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Monday.
Cuban police and State Security agents usually round up scores of dissidents on or before Dec. 10 each year to keep them from staging any sort of events marking the day. The government critics are then released after a few hours or days.
About 45 Ladies in White and 10 supporters were arrested in Havana following their traditional march outside the Santa Rita church after Sunday mass, said Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
The women usually are allowed to go home without incident after the marches, but this weekend were harassed by government agents. When they sat down in protest, police dragged them roughly to three waiting buses, Sanchez said. Most were released by Sunday night.
Ferrer said another 34 Ladies in White and two young girls were detained, 16 of them “with violence,” over the weekend around eastern Cuba as they tried to make their way to El Cobre to pray for human rights. All had been freed as of noon Monday.
Police intercepted three more at the gates to the church on Sunday and tried to seize two others already inside, Ferrer told El Nuevo Herald by phone from his home in the nearby town of Palmarito de Cauto. But a priest in the church protected the women and drove them home after the mass.
The Ladies in White, founded by the wives, daughters and mothers of political prisoners, was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005. They wear white clothes and carry pink gladiolas during their marches.
Another 20 male dissidents were taken into custody and held in police lockups around eastern Cuba over the weekend, Ferrer added. Four were confirmed to have been freed as of noon Monday but there was no word on the fate of the others.
Sanchez added that police and state security agents also put between 100 and 150 dissidents under house arrest during the crackdown, but stressed that he was still receiving new reports of arrests and releases as of Monday evening.
A blog widely believed to be run by State Security agents, Yohandry’s Blog, claimed that police were forced to drag away the Havana Ladies in White before civilians nearby could give them a “forceful reply” for “failing to respect the pain of the Cuban people” over the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Chávez announced Saturday that he was returning to Cuba for a fourth round of surgery related to his fight with cancer. He arrived Monday.
The opposition group Express Art for Freedom, meanwhile, announced a contest, open to island residents only, for the best Tweet regarding International Human Rights Day. The winner, who will pick from among a computer, a camera or a cellular telephone, will be announced after Dec. 23.
And in Spain, two Cuban groups marched to the Cuban embassy in Madrid on Sunday to protest the detentions and demand the release of Sonia Garros and Calixto Ramon Martinez, dissidents who have been jailed on the island for several weeks.