Dissidents in Cuba Hit with New Crackdown

Article excerpt

The Cuban government has arrested at least 30 anti-Castro dissidents and harassed dozens more in recent days in what the State Department is calling the nation's most extensive crackdown in recent years.

The arrests have forced organizers to cancel plans for a conference this weekend of the Cubano Concilio, an umbrella association of more than 130 island-based opposition groups.

The government had been notified some time ago of plans for what would have been Cuba's first truly independent gathering on human rights.

But starting Feb. 15, Cuban state security officers began arresting, intimidating and harassing Concilio members. By yesterday, more than 100 opposition figures had had run-ins with state security of one type or another. At least 30 are still in jail.

The Clinton administration denounced the crackdown in unusually strong language Wednesday at the regular State Department briefing.

"This wave of arrests is among the most extensive to have been initiated by the Castro regime in recent years," said spokesman Nicholas Burns.

"This wave of repression dramatically demonstrates the Castro regime's unwillingness to engage in a process of political reform and its determination to maintain absolute control over Cuban society."

The Cuban government fired back yesterday, accusing the United States of financing the opposition movement. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marianela Ferriol charged in Havana that the Cubano Concilio is "conceived and financed by the U.S. government."

"That is categorically wrong," said a State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We regard the Concilio people as independent actors, and the Cuban government is trying to tar them as being associated with us. I don't think it will work."

Miss Ferriol also said Cuba would not tolerate "any attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of our country." The statement seemed to be aimed at discouraging foreign governments and organizations from supporting the Cuban dissidents.

Earlier this week, Cuba's best-known dissident, Elizardo Sanchez, appealed to the European Union, which officially recognizes Concilio as the democratic opposition to the Cuban government, for help in ending the repression. …