Latest Cuban police tactic: Freeing detained dissidents in remote areas far from their homes

Cuban dissident Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres says police arrested her, punched her and kept her all day in a scorching hot bus, then freed her the next morning in a remote farming area 20 miles from her home.

Another dissident in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba reports similar treatment. Yasnay Ferrer Santos says she was yanked violently out of a car, held in a patrol car all day and all night and then freed on a rural road 10 miles from her home.

Dissidents and human rights leaders say those incidents are part of a recent shift in tactics that Cuban security forces are using against domestic opponents. Increasingly, they are resorting to physical force and dumping dissidents in isolated areas to harass and intimidate them, say human rights leaders.

“It’s been happening dozens of time, too many times to count, hundreds just with UNPACU” members, said José Daniel Ferrer, head of the opposition Patriotic Union of Cuba. Its Spanish-language acronym is UNPACU.

Ferrer and Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana, say the shift began in May.

On May 1, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Switzerland issued a report criticizing the Cuban government’s record — specifically expressing concern over a spike in the number of short-term detentions of dissidents.

Such detentions, usually in police stations, soared from 2,074 in 2010 to 6,602 last year. The rise was perceived as the result of an effort by Cuba’s leader, Raúl Castro, to move away from the notoriously long prison sentences common under his brother Fidel Castro while keeping up the pressure on dissidents.

The short-term detentions have now slowed significantly, with 2,376 reported in the first seven months of this year, compared to 4,051 in the same period last year, according to the latest report by Sánchez’s group.

But now the state security apparatus in the Western Hemisphere’s only communist-ruled nation is increasingly resorting to other tactics, Ferrer and Sánchez agreed. In addition to physical violence and the drop-offs in remote areas, they reported vandalism of dissidents’ homes and “acts of repudiation” by government-organized mobs.

Three UNPACU members have been mugged at night by young men in civilian clothes, Ferrer said. In one case the attackers were known employees of government sports centers apparently acting on orders of state security agents, he added.

State Security officers watching some of the arrests have been heard ordering their men to punch dissidents who lead the protests or shout the loudest, Ferrer added, and dissidents are reporting more injuries during their arrests.

Sanchez concurred and said his commission also has been receiving reports of attacks on the homes of dissidents with rocks, paint and feces and pro-government demonstrations in front of the homes.

But the most significant change reported has been the drop in the temporary detentions in police stations and an increase in detentions in police cars and buses, followed by releases in remote areas with no public transportation and few passing vehicles, Ferrer and Sanchez said.

“We’re seeing it too. Apparently, taking them to police lockups has not been effective for them,” said Berta Soler, leader of the dissident Ladies in White.

Rodriguez, a 43-year-old unemployed economist, said she was detained and later freed in remote places four times in recent months to keep her from attending opposition gatherings, most of them in the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint, in the village of El Cobre.

Last month she was held in police buses and patrol cars, given no water and no food despite the stifling heat and was released in a remote cattle ranch’s road, she said. In June she was freed on a beach road 21 miles from her home, she said.

Each detention was accompanied by punches and rough physical treatment, she told El Nuevo Herald by phone during a break in an UNPACU meeting in Ferrer’s home in Palmarito de Cauto. When Ferrer asked his group how many of them had been detained and dropped off in remote spots, six raised their hands, he said.

Yasnay Ferrer, no relation to the UNPACU leader, said she was shoved around, thrown to the ground or punched almost all of the five times that she was detained in the recent months.

“What we’re seeing is a true metamorphosis in the tactics for political repression,” said Sanchez by phone from Havana. “Because of all the criticism, the number of (short-term) detentions has fallen visibly while these other intimidation procedures are used more.”

Sanchez also noted that Amnesty International this month added five names to its list of Cuban “prisoners of conscience,” which had been empty since Castro released 116 political prisoners in 2010-2011 following talks with the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Rafael Matos and Emilio Planas were arrested in the eastern city of Guantánamo in September after anti-government signs appeared around the city. They were convicted of “pre criminal dangerousness,” the London-based human rights group said.

Alexeis Vargas Martín and his 17-year-old twin brothers, Diango and Vianco — all members of UNPACU — were accused of “using violence or intimidation against a state official,” according to Amnesty

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