Cuban dissidents testify on human rights at OAS

Seven top Cuban dissidents alleged during testimony before the human rights branch of the Organization of American States Tuesday that security officials regularly beat, strip search and evict government opponents from jobs and schools.

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights announced at the hearing that it had issued a “cautionary measure” urging the Cuban government to investigate complaints from the dissident group Ladies in White and to adopt measures to protect its members.

An IACHR official noted, however, that Havana never acknowledges any communications from the panel, which is part of the OAS. Cuba’s membership in the hemispheric organization has been suspended since the 1960s.

The testimony by Berta Soler — president of the Ladies in White, three other members of the organization, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez — known as Antúnez, his wife Yris Tamara Perez and Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina marked one of the rare times when Cuban dissidents have appeared in person before the human rights commission.

“This is fresh and direct testimony provided by people who suffered the repression on their own bodies… and who will return to Cuba to continue fighting for democracy,” said Janisset Rivero, deputy head of the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate.

Soler said she was especially concerned with the fate of Ladies in White member Sonia Garro and her husband, Ramon Alejandro Munoz, scheduled to be tried Friday on charges of trying to kill one of the policemen who raided their home last summer. They have been jailed since then, and prosecutors are seeking 10-year sentences for each.

Sayli Navarro testified that over the past six months police intensified the repression against her fellow Ladies in White, strip-searching some, performing body cavity searches on others and releasing many of them in remote places.

Magaly Norvis Otero complained that relatives of dissidents are regularly kicked out of their jobs or expelled from schools. She asked the IACHR to urge the Cuban government to observe international norms for the protection of human rights activists.

Garcia Perez, who served 17 years in prison, said the Cuban government has launched “an intense and systematic escalation” of abuses against dissidents and human rights activists in recent months that included beatings, arrests and home detentions.

His wife said she was beaten so badly during one arrest this summer that she suffered a loss of memory, and added that Havana activist Sara Martha Fonseca could barely walk after one police beating earlier this year.

Dissidents also are regularly subjected to government-organized “acts of repudiation” in which mobs often throw rocks and other materials at their homes and chant pro-government slogans, said Rodriguez Lobaina, who spent six years in prison.

Garcia Perez, his wife and Rodriguez Lobaina also alleged that state security agents were responsible for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero who both died in a car accident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and several other dissidents.

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