Cuban dissidents girded for a wave of arrests and other police crackdowns as they prepared for an unusually daring list of protests and marches to mark International Human Rights Day on Tuesday.
Ladies in White leader Berta Soler announced that more than 90 members, and any others who want to join them, plan to gather Tuesday at 1 p.m. in front of one of downtown Havana’s best-known spots — the Copelia ice cream shop.
The group will then try to march down the nearby La Rampa “like anyone else who wants to stroll there,” Soler said, referring to the popular and leafy boulevard that takes strollers down to the capital’s seaside Malecón drive.
Three other dissident movements in Havana also plan to host Cuban and foreign guests for the First Conference on Human Rights on Tuesday and Wednesday, featuring panel discussions, videos, paintings, a musical concert and other activities.
Several members of the three groups — Estado de SATS, the New Country Forum and the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights — already have been threatened with jail if they attend the gathering, said SATS founder Antonio Rodiles.
Rodiles said a State Security official stopped him Monday on his way home, where the conference is to be held, and said he would drive to the police station to obtain an arrest order for the dissident. “The situation is tense,” Rodiles said.
This year’s anniversary of the day in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Human Rights Declaration will see more dissident activities than in the past “because the issue is on the rise,” said activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz.
“There’s also more tension among the forces of repression,” added Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Cuba’s government has made it clear that it will not tolerate opposition protests on Tuesday, and some writers in the official news media warned last week that “the people” have a right to respond to any “provocations” or “attempts to destabilize” the island.
The pro-government neighborhood watch groups known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution on Monday launched a campaign of vigilance against “social problems” that could cover political frustrations.
Sanchez said security agents already started this weekend to warn dissidents to stay away from the Tuesday activities. And José Daniél Ferrer, executive secretary of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), the island’s most active opposition group, said authorities on the eastern end of the island are also preparing.
About 25 UNPACU members were summoned to police offices Monday in the eastern town of Palma Soriano alone to receive warnings to stay away from activities on Tuesday, Ferrer said. Only seven answered the summons, he said.
UNPACU followers have been marking International Human Rights Day for the past week by passing out copies of the declaration, posting them on trees and walls and gathering for quick protest marches of 12 to 15 people, according to Ferrer.
On Tuesday, they will gather in their respective towns and villages to discuss the meaning of the day, he told El Nuevo Herald in a telephone interview from his home in Palmarito de Cauto, near Palma Soriano.
“There might be some marches, but we cannot talk about the details,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer called it ironic that just last month Cuba was reelected to another three-year term on the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.