Cuban authorities harass dissidents before Havana summit

The Cuban government has unleashed “a large wave of political repression” against dissidents, detaining or threatening at least 60 to keep them from tarnishing a meeting of hemispheric leaders in Havana, a human rights group reported Monday.

The II Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on Tuesday and Wednesday will focus mostly on efforts at economic integration among the 33 member nations. CELAC excludes the United States and Canada.

Cuba also has proposed declaring the region as a “zone of peace” and other nations have proposed addressing issues such as poverty, climate change, the peace talks between Colombia and FARC rebels and the U.S. embargo against the Cuban government.

But attempts by the Cuban opposition to voice their complaints to the foreign visitors and grab part of their media spotlight by holding two small “parallel summits” have been met with tough measures by security officials on the island.

Police briefly detained at least 40 dissidents, threatened or harassed another 18 and ordered five more to stay home “until the end of the summit,” said a report Monday by the illegal Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Those numbers are preliminary because of government controls on communications within the island, but they already amount to “a large wave of political repression against peaceful dissidents,” the report said, to “muzzle” them during the two-day summit.

Other dissidents have reported nearly 150 brief detentions and blocks on the cell phones of several pro-democracy activists.

Among those put under house arrest are Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience in 2010, and former political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet.

José Daniel Ferrer, a former political prisoner who founded the Cuban Patriotic Union, was picked up by police Friday as he emerged from the Swedish embassy in Havana and driven back to his hometown of Palmarito de Cauto, 290 miles to the east.

Havana residents said authorities also have been cleaning up the city’s image, carting off beggars and running prostitutes out of public gathering spots, deploying potted plants along some of its main avenues and sprucing up billboards and storefronts.

The crackdown on dissidents has highlighted what critics say is the mistake of foreign leaders who are meeting in a country ruled by a dictatorship for more than half a century yet are refusing to meet with the peaceful opposition.

Attending the summit will be presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Cristina Fernández of Argentina and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, whose predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, launched the CELAC initiative in 2011.

José Miguel Insulza, head of the Washington-based Organization of American States, has said that he’s attending the gathering only as an observer and will not meet with dissidents to avoid “provoking problems or discomforts.”

Cuba and Panama, meanwhile, continued their sparring at the summit, sparked by Havana’s refusal to cooperate with an inquiry into Panama’s seizure of undeclared Cuban weapons aboard a North Korean freighter last year.

Panama’s envoy to summit planning meetings exchanged “tense words” with a deputy Cuban foreign minister Saturday over the wording of a declaration praising Chávez for his contributions to CELAC, the AFP news agency reported from Havana.

Panama President Ricardo Martinelli will not attend the summit to show his displeasure with Cuba, according to well informed sources. He had planned to send a low-ranking Foreign Ministry official in his stead, but later decided to send Government Minister Jose Ricardo Fábrega.

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