Cuban police detain dozens of dissidents on human rights anniversary

Cuban police detained dozens of dissidents, beat up others, blocked their telephones and sealed off their homes Tuesday to forestall a string of protests and other gatherings planned to mark International Human Rights Day.

Among those detained were the leader and more than 20 members of the Ladies in White, who tried to gather in a popular corner of Havana. Another 30 activists were also detained in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, according to dissident reports.

And police left 16 dissidents bleeding and arrested six others when they raided the home of Roger Curbelo, a member of the opposition Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) in the eastern town of Puerto Padre, according to MCL activist Ramón García.

“All of us are full of blood,” Garcia said of the 16 activists who remained holed up in the home late Tuesday. Some were hit with police batons and others with rocks thrown from a mob of about 1,000 government supporters that harassed the home, he added.

Security officials blocked the telephones of several dissidents in an apparent effort to silence reports of other arrests, and Havana blogger Yoani Sanchez tweeted Tuesday morning that “Like in a bad horror movie, I am losing communication with … activists.”

Although most of the detainees were expected to be released soon, the crackdown appeared to be one of the broadest in years because of the increased activities planned by the opposition for the anniversary of the U.N.’s Universal Human Rights Declaration.

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, were hauled off by plainclothes police as they headed to a protest planned by the women’s group in front of Havana’s popular Coppelia ice cream shop, according to independent journalist Manuel Guerra.

At least another 20 Ladies in White and two men were detained, some with force, as they arrived in groups of twos and threes and dressed in their traditional white clothes, according to an eyewitness report by the Agence France Press news agency.

As the women were detained, some shouted “Freedom” and a pro-government mob gathered near the shop held up posters of Fidel and Raúl Castro and shouted “filthy rats,” “death to the Ladies in White,” Spain’s Efe news agency reported.

Also harassed by police, State Security agents and mobs was Estado de SATS, directed by Antonio Rodiles, which on Tuesday launched its two-day First International Conference on Human Rights in Rodiles’ home without government approval.

Rodiles said police had sealed off his entire city block and were arresting or turning away supporters who turned up for the gathering. Ten to 15 supporters slipped into his home before the barricades went up, but he had been expecting 80 to 200 to attend.

Among those detained were two Argentines, Pedro Robledo and Valentina Aragona, who travelled to Cuba to participate in the gathering, Rodiles added. They were to be deported, according to the blog Diario de Cuba blog.

Security officials also organized block parties around Havana and the rest of the island, delivering beer and rum and blaring revolutionary music to celebrate what are Cuba’s claims of achievements inhuman rights, such as health and education.

Other detentions were reported in western Pinar del Rio Province and Matanzas east of Havana, although no details were immediately available. Some dissidents also were warned to stay at home Tuesday or face arrest, according to Rodiles.

Dissident leader Jose Daniel Ferrer said police also detained 23 Ladies in White and sealed off another 22 in the Santiago home of Solange Claramunt to disrupt their plans for a street protest in Cuba’s second largest city.

Six men were also known to have been arrested in the region, and many others could not be reached because of the blocked phones, added Ferrer, who helped found the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), one of the island’s most active dissident groups.

But police only monitored and did not confront about 15 dissidents who marched through the streets of his hometown of Palmarito de Cauto and nearby Palma Soriano, he said.

In another contrast with the crackdowns elsewhere on the island, Guillermo Fariñas, one of the best-known dissidents said that Tuesday was the first time since 2002 he was not arrested when he tried to mark human rights day in his hometown of Santa Clara.

Farinas said police did not interfere as he led 45 members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and three Ladies in White on a two-mile walk to a local cemetery to pray at the tomb of Juan Wilfredo Soto García, a dissident who died in 2011 after an alleged police beating.

Police nevertheless detained about 20 other dissidents in the region as they tried to mark the human rights day, said Fariñas, who won the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize for freedom of human conscience in 2010.

“Don’t think that the repression has changed,” he cautioned. “The intolerance continues.”

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