Snapshots of Oppression: Castro's Boot Lands Hard on Nonviolent Dissidents

Laura Silber is the author of "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" (Penguin USA, 1996).

Last week, most Americans' attention was glued to the war in Iraq. While eyes were focused elsewhere, nonviolent dissidents in Cuba were being detained by Fidel Castro's security forces on an unprecedented scale. The reports by Cuban independent journalists of this repression garnered little notice.

More than 70 people were thrown into the state security dungeons after suffering prolonged searches and confiscations. They may be charged with providing information that can be used to hurt the state under the much criticized but yet unapplied law on the protection of national independence. The maximum sentence is 20 years.

Here are some snapshots from the brave reporters on the front line in Havana:

* Raul Rivero, the renowned poet and journalist, reported on the March 18 detention of Osvaldo Alfonso Valdes, president of the unrecognized Liberal Party of Cuba: "At 4 p.m., four police cars and an impressive deployment of officers surrounded the apartment building where Claudia Marquez Linares from the press agency Grupo Decoro lives with her husband Osvaldo. At 7:50 p.m., this major security operation is still going on."

Marquez herself completed the report: "The search lasted until 1:15 a.m. and was witnessed by two children who live with us in the apartment. From the comments the officers made among themselves, I understood that they were looking for something specific. There was not a spot in the house they didn't search. They confiscated 150 books, archives of the Liberal Democratic Party, a video camera, 36 diskettes, a laptop and a printer. I was briefly detained and my husband was transferred to the state security headquarters in Villa Marista."

* In Raul Rivero spoke about Wednesday's arrest of Omar Rodriguez Saludes, an independent journalist and photographer: "The home of Omar is being raided by the police but, as far as we know, Omar is not there." Other journalists added later after Rodriguez returned home: "All searches in this vast operation are videotaped by the political police, and the officers who carry them out wear surgical gloves. Computers, video cameras, portable tape recorders, videotapes and CDs, private photos, documents, literature and even medicine are confiscated. At Omar's apartment, they reviewed the videocassettes on his VCR. During the search there was a blackout [very frequent in Havana] but the officers continued using [flashlights]. They even confiscated the medicine for Omar's newborn daughter. Then they took him to Villa Marista."

* On Thursday, Raul Rivero himself was detained. Rodolfo Damian reported: "It took the proportion of a pogrom. The street where Raul lives was blocked with police, security forces and brigades of rapid response teams. They entered his apartment and searched it for hours. Later, the security agents carried big black plastic bags with books, a laptop and his manuscripts, including two new collections of poems, which he had almost finished. They put Raul ... in the back seat of a Russian-made Lada and took him away, leaving his 83-year-old mother, Hortensia, weeping in a rocking chair.... The poet was taken to Villa Marista. This is an insult to the Cuban culture."

* Other Cuban journalists covered the Thursday detention of Martha Beatriz Roque, an independent economist and leader of the umbrella group Assembly for a Civil Society: "Roque was participating since March 11 in a liquid fast for the release of political prisoners along with five other dissidents. The house where they were staying was raided by the police and the dissidents were taken to their homes to be searched. The state security confiscated at Roque's house her books, computer, printer, fax machine and papers.

They then took her to Villa Marista."

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