Cuban police beat activists on eve of human rights protest

The Christian Science MonitorDecember 10, 2008 

MEXICO CITY — On the eve of the 60th anniversary Wednesday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a day when Cuban dissidents traditionally gather for protest marches, Belinda Salas, a leading Cuban activist, was beaten by Cuban police, she said via telephone from Havana.

Ms. Salas, the director of the Latin American Foundation of Rural Women (FLAMUR), says she, her husband and another couple were leaving the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, where the group regularly sends e-mails and news to Cuban activist groups based in the U.S. and Europe, when two police cars stopped next to them. Eight officers began to beat them on the street just after 1 p.m. Tuesday, and detained her husband and the two other activists.

Salas says she does not know where they are being held, but she says she knows the motive. "They want to sell the image that they respect human rights, so they beat us to avoid our peaceful protests planned for (Wednesday)," says Salas, who was interviewed by the Monitor earlier this summer for a story on women activists in Cuba, part of a series on change under way in the island nation since Raul Castro took the helm from his brother, Fidel Castro.

The incident also comes as FLAMUR presented some 10,000 signatures to

Cuba's national assembly last month to protest the country's dual-currency system, which pays state wages in Cuban pesos but requires payment for many goods and services in convertible pesos, which are worth more than 25 times more.

The group turned in the first 10,000 signatures a year ago. Sandy Acosta Cox, a spokesperson for the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, says it is rare for beatings, especially of women, to occur. Women activists, such as the "Ladies in White" who demand the release of relatives arrested in a 2003 sweep known as "Black Spring," have been given a certain degree of space, she says.

"They know they'll have a major problem because the world is watching." Long-term sentences such as those handed out during "Black Spring" are becoming rarer, says Dan Erikson, a Cuba expert at the Inter-American Dialogue and the author of the new book "The Cuba Wars."

"Generally, Cuba has seen a reduction in arrests with people getting long sentences, and there's been more short-term arrests and harassment," he says. "Cuba recognizes that having political prisoners is bad for its image overseas."

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