It wasn’t long ago that the world marked the passing of Fidel Castro, lauding his accomplishments as a loving leader of his people and an enlightened international statesman. There was some acknowledgement that a one-party state under an autocratic revolutionary would take some time to “evolve”, but there was broad confidence in Cuba’s inexorable progress towards freedom and democracy. Meanwhile, people were poor but content with good medical coverage.
This rosy picture didn’t permit much scope for different coloration, so it was to be expected that mainstream media outlets wouldn’t go out of their way to report on the crackdown on dissidents which Raoul Castro’s regime launched in mid-December. But of all the international news services, Agence France Presse could be expected to uphold the reporting standards of earlier times. So on 18 December 2016, AFP reported as follows from Havana:
Authorities across Cuba have cracked down on dissidents, arresting dozens, keeping others from marching in Havana, and detaining an American human rights lawyer, activitists said Sunday.
In the first such anti-dissident operation since Fidel Castro’s death last month, President Raoul Castro seemed to indicate the Americas’ only one-party communist state was in no mood for dissent.
A roundup in the country’s east snared dozens and derailed street protests planned to demand that political prisoners be freed.
“There was a joint operation at 6:00 am in Santiago and Palma Soriano. They searched four homes, and so far we have 42 reported arrests — 20 in Santiago, 12 in Palma and 10 in Havana,” Jose Daniel Ferrer told AFP by phone.
The 46-year-old, who heads the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), had called the demonstrations to demand that political prisoners be set free. Castro insists there are no political prisoners, just lawbreakers.
Ferrer said he was detained in Santiago, Cuba’s second biggest city, at a police unit known as Micro 9.
“They threatened me, and said by calling the demonstration I was facilitating public disorder…. disobedience and espionage,” Ferrer said.
Most arrests of dissidents in roundups are brief. Sometimes, the authorities prevent them from leaving their homes to attend a protest or march.
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In Havana, the award-winning Ladies in White group, which presses for the release of jailed dissidents who are their relatives, said that at least 20 of its activists were “under siege,” kept from attending their weekly march.
“At least 20 homes were blocking the residents to keep us from marching today,” said group leader Berta Soler.
It was a step backward for the Ladies in White. They long have been considered the only dissidents the Cuban government allowed to march regularly; they hold one weekly protest outside a church in Havana.
But not this Sunday, Soler said.
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Kimberley Motley, an American human rights lawyer, was briefly detained on Friday along with Cuban activists Gorki Avila and Luis Alberto Marino when they planned to visit graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” in jail.
Maldonado was also arrested on November 26, a day after the death of Cuban revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, after painting on a wall in Havana the phrase “He’s gone,” her relatives say.