Human rights group in Cuba reports record number of detentions

A record 3,821 short-term arrests of Cuban dissidents were reported in the first four months of this year, continuing a surprisingly sharp increase in detentions under ruler Raúl Castro, the island’s top human rights group reported Monday.

The number more than doubled the 1,588 detentions reported in the first quarter of last year and outstripped the previous high of 2,795 for the same period in 2012, which included 1,158 detentions during the month that Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba.

The growing detentions “reflect the popular discontent that is growing sharply” on the communist-ruled island of 11 million people, said Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, head of Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).

“These people have entered their 56th year in government, and governing badly, so it’s natural that the discontent is increasing day by day,” Sanchez said by phone from Havana.

“What does surprise me is that this is happening at a time when the government is trying to get close to the European Union, and they (Cuban officials) are showing a truly unacceptable face,” Sanchez said.

Cuban and EU officials began talks April 29 on warming up their political and economic relations. The EU’s “common position” ties its policies to Cuba’s human rights record, although many European nations maintain good bilateral relations with Havana.

Sanchez cautioned, however, that while the Cubans’ discontent and outright opposition to the government continue to rise, they lack “articulation” because of the government’s ability to crack down on its critics.

Cuban police and State Security agents use what the CCDHRN calls “short-term detentions for political motives” to harass and intimidate government opponents and block planned gatherings or street marches. Dissidents are usually held for several hours in police stations, or are driven to remote locations and are then freed.

Sanchez, whose organization is not recognized by the government, said the tactic began in 2004 under former ruler Fidel Castro as an attempt to avoid repeating the long prison sentences — and mountains of negative publicity — of a 2003 crackdown on dissent.

The sentences of up to 28 years handed down after one-day trials of 75 dissidents in what became known as Cuba’s Black Spring sparked a deep cooling of relations with the European Union and several Western nations.

Raúl Castro has launched a string of reforms to move the island away from its Soviet-style economy and toward a more productive model that allows more private enterprise. But many Cubans complain the changes are too few and are moving too slowly.

The CCDHRN report for the month of April, issued Monday, showed steady increases in short-term detentions, with 697 reported in the first four months of 2010, compared to 1,166 in the same period in 2011, 2,795 in 2012 and 1,588 in 2013.

Authorities carried out 1,158 short-term detentions in March 2012 to keep them away from Pope Benedict’s masses, and shut down the cell phones of hundreds of dissidents to try to keep the news of the detentions from filtering out of the country.

The organization’s tally also showed 2,074 such arrests in all of 2010, compared to 4,123 in all of 2011, 6,602 in all of 2012 and 6,424 last year.

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