An Imminent Crackdown

Saturday, September 24, 2011
From The Miami Herald:

Havana’s patience with protests may be running thin

A decision by Cuban prosecutors to put 11 dissidents on trial and a pro-government blog’s threat against the Ladies in White might signal that the government has lost its patience with a recent wave of protests, activists said.

“State Security agents have told us they prefer to pay the political costs of having new political prisoners than allow the growth of our movement,” said dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, freed this spring after eight years in prison.

Cuban authorities generally prefer to detain dissidents for a few hours to disrupt their plans, rather than risk condemnations by throwing them in jail for long periods. In the past year the government freed 52 dissidents jailed during a mass roundup in 2003.

But this year has seen a wave of activism. Cuban courts have convicted eight dissidents, compared to only two convictions in 2010, and sentenced them to prison terms of up to five years.

The threat of a crackdown against the Ladies in White came in Cambios en Cuba — Changes in Cuba — a pro-government blog that accused the women of trying to provoke a military intervention in Cuba like the NATO attacks in Libya.

The women, all relatives of political prisoners, and their supporters plan to gather for Mass on Saturday at the Church of Las Mercedes to give thanks for the release of the 52 dissidents and pray for the release of all other jailed opposition activists.

“The result of this announced provocation is already predictable: As many times as needed, our youths and women will block the so-called Ladies from [creating] … public disorders. Put simply, they will not be allowed,” the unsigned blog post noted.

Government-organized mobs have broken up attempted protests around Cuba this year with so-called “acts of repudiation” that sometimes involve the use of force and violence against opposition activists.

The blog alleged that the Ladies in White want to be “the little spark that sets off the social explosion that converts Cuba into a NATO shooting range.”

Responding to the blog’s allegations, Berta Soler, Ladies in White spokeswoman, said she did not understand “how some women dressed in white could be a provocation.”

Ferrer said prosecutor Olga Virgen Despaigne Correoso, handling two cases against 11 dissidents in the eastern town of Palma Soriano, had issued written decisions that they should go to trial. Charges of creating public disturbances will be filed against seven men arrested Aug. 28 during an incident in which dissidents alleged that police used tear gas and deployed a riot-control squad to block a street protest by about 30 government critics, Ferrer said.

The four others were arrested Sept. 8 after a verbal street confrontation with a government supporter, he said. They were charged with creating a public disturbance and assault.