Cuban arrests of women relatives shows hardening on rights issue

STRASBOURG, France, March 19 (UPI) -- Cuba's detention of 30 women relatives of political prisoners showed no sign of an early resolution as European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek issued a sharp condemnation of Havana's actions aimed at crushing dissent.

Washington condemned the move and, earlier this month, European Parliament voted to demand release of all political prisoners after dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo died Feb. 23, succumbing following an 83-day hunger strike.


Cuba's defiant response focused attention on the fact that, apart from the United States and Europe, the human rights issues in the country found no response in Central and South America, analysts said.

The women relatives of the prisoners were seized during protests in Havana. A further crisis was brewing over the possible fate of journalist Guillermo Farinas, who went on hunger strike three weeks ago as a protest against the death of Zapata. Farinas is reported to be very weak because of the fast.

Farinas has said he hopes his fast will lead to the release of 26 dissident prisoners who are in need of medical treatment but the government reacted with a further hardening of its stance.The 26 are part of a group of at least 50 dissident prisoners who are still


in prison.

The women's protest march was organized by the Women In White movement and led by Zapata's mother.

More than 300 supporters of the Cuban government taunted the women and disrupted the protest. Female police officers intervened, only to arrest the Women In White protesters.

Cuba's defiance has much to do with the Latin American silence on the issue of political prisoners in the country, analysts said.

Aside from unquestioning supporters of Cuba, such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the moderate leaders in Latin American ranks also have chosen to remain silent. Latin American leaders have shied away from criticism of Cuba lest they be branded as supporters of Washington, analysts said.

The Cuban government reinforces the argument, by frequently calling the dissidents paid stooges of Washington and common criminals.

Human rights activists' attempts to get Latin American leaders involved also have gone unheeded. In the latest episode, officials close to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the president had received a letter from the imprisoned dissidents but hadn't read it.

The five-page letter, signed 50 Cuban dissidents, urged Lula to intercede with Cuban leader Raul Castro to review their sentences, Brazilian media reported.

Lula has said in published comments he disagrees with any recourse to hunger strike to seek improved conditions for human rights in Cuba.


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