Cuba: The new wave of repression

Journalist Tracey Eaton in USA Today:

Cuban rights abuses, jailings up in new repressive wave
Omaglis Gonzalez, a member of Las Damas de Blanco, said a police officer twisted her arm, dislocating her wrist, while forcing her into a patrol car.

HAVANA — Political arrests in Cuba jumped to more than 6,600 in 2012, the highest in decades as authorities shifted their strategy for dealing with growing civic resistance, dissident groups say.

Cuba’s communist government is using more short-term arbitrary arrests to disrupt and intimidate critics rather than slap them with long prison sentences like those used against dozens of Cubans in a crackdown on dissent in 2003.

“The government has changed its tactics,” said Elizardo Sánchez, director of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a Havana group that tracks political arrests. Repression is “low-profile, low-intensity” but “reaches more people.”

Political arrests in 2012 climbed to 6,602, from 4,123 in 2011 and 2,074 in 2010, Sánchez said. Most people are freed within a few hours or days.

Former math professor Antonio Rodiles is among those subjected to the latest repressive tactics. Rodiles, founder of Estado de SATS, a group that encourages civic participation and debate, said he was beaten and punched in the eye Nov. 7 when he and others went to Cuban state security headquarters in Havana to ask about a lawyer friend who had been arrested. Rodiles, 40, was jailed for 19 days.

“Israel and Palestine have been able to at least sit down and talk. Cubans should be able to do that,” he said of his attempts to have a dialogue with the government.

Héctor Maseda, who served several years in prison for his political views, says authorities are switching to short-term arrests to give the impression of tolerance.

“The government is trying to confuse public opinion. It is trying to show that repression has lessened,” said Maseda, 69, a former nuclear engineer. “But that is not happening. Repression is increasing.”

Cuba analyst José Cardenas said Cuban President Raúl Castro lacks the “outsized charismatic personality” of Fidel Castro, his retired older brother, so his government must use “harassment and hit-and-run tactics” to manage dissent.

“In 2013, they can’t put people in jail and throw away the key anymore. They have to act in a way that doesn’t draw international scrutiny,” said Cardenas, a former acting assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. “The turnstile jailing of perceived and real dissidents is really the next best way to keep the opposition from growing.”

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