Cuban dissident Antúnez says women, blacks, provincial residents joining movement

Cuba’s dissident movement has been growing with the increased involvement of women, blacks and provincial residents, the opposition activist known as Antúnez said Wednesday during his first public appearance in Miami.

Jorge Luís García Pérez also said that although President Barack Obama’s decision to lift almost all restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances to the island was well-intentioned, his administration also “broke a tradition of solidarity” with dissidents.

Cubans separated by decades of animosity have been able to see each other again, but “that’s not helped at all” to improve political conditions on the island, García said in a lengthy interview with El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald.

The 48-year-old García, regarded as one of Cuba’s more combative dissidents and best known as Antúnez, spent 17 years in prison after shouting anti-government slogans during a speech by then-Defense Minister Raúl Castro in 1990.

He landed in Miami on Sunday on his first-ever trip abroad even though he has had a U.S. visitors visa for the past six or seven years. The Cuban government previously told him that he could leave the island only if he agreed to stay out, he said.

García was the latest of the many dissidents allowed to travel abroad after Havana eased its migration restrictions in January. They include Guillermo Fariñas and Antonio Rodiles, blogger Yoani Sánchez and Ladies in White leader Berta Soler.

While Cuba’s dissident groups were traditionally led by older intellectuals, García said, they have been growing in recent years with the addition of blacks like himself, women like the Ladies in White and people who live outside of Havana.

The most aggressive resistance is currently in the provinces, he added, because people there know and trust each other while residents of Havana barely know their next-door neighbors. García lives in Placetas, a municipality of 50,000 people in central Cuba.

Proof of the growing resistance is in the number of anti-government signs that appear at sunrise, he told the newspapers, the rising rate of abstentions in elections and the complaints increasingly voiced by usually ultra-loyal military officers.

Castro, who succeeded ailing brother Fidel in 2006, has replied with increased harassments, threats and detentions after which activists are usually released in isolated rural roads, García said.

Like most Cuban dissidents, García also dismissed the economic reforms pushed by Castro for the past five years as an attempt to make only the minimum changes required to ensure the survival of the island’s communist political and economic system.

Although the reforms have brought about “some slight improvements in some sectors of the population,” García added, overall “the people see no improvement at all. The people see fraud.”

“The people want bread, but also freedom,” he said, adding that the opposition movement “will not settle for little changes.”

García also declared that the hierarchy of Cuba’s Catholic Church has been insensitive to the work of the dissident groups and that Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, “does not enjoy credibility” among Cubans.

As for the foreign journalists based in Havana, he said that dissidents regularly send them news releases, photos and videos but they seldom publish the information. Cuba has expelled several foreign journalists whose coverage they deemed too negative.

Reporters in Havana are either “insensitive to the pain” of the opposition “or in clear complicity” with the government, he added.

García, who helped found the National Movement for Civic Resistance Pedro Luis Boitel, and his wife, Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, an activist in the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights, plan to stay outside Cuba for about two months.

They are scheduled to meet Friday in Miami with Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, all Miami Republicans. It is not yet known if they will travel to Washington or other countries to speak about Cuba.

García said he had the impression that people outside the island sometimes view the allegations of human rights and other abuses reported by dissidents as likely exaggerations, although dissidents most often don’t report all they suffer.

Government agents once attacked his wife and other women dissidents with machetes, he said. And he added that a prison guard once threw a rope into his cell and said, “Look, black guy. So you can hang yourself.”

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