- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators yesterday brushed aside global condemnation of Fidel Castro's latest crackdown on dissent and formed a group seeking an end to the 40-year-old American trade embargo of Cuba.
"The sanction policy of the United States has been ineffective since it was adopted in 1962," the lawmakers said in a letter to the Senate leadership.
"We believe that the American people can have greater influence on Cuban society by developing a relationship with the Cuban people."
The letter, signed by 10 senators, including Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, made no mention of the four-day Cuban government crackdown on its political opposition.
The Bush administration, with a policy to engage the government opposition, has said it will veto any bill or amendment that seeks to roll back sanctions.
By late Thursday about 75 opposition figures had been arrested for opposing the government, including economist Marta Beatriz Roque, and Raul Rivero, Cuba's best-known independent journalist.
The Cuban government accuses the dissidents of conspiring with the United States to overthrow the government.
Cuba's most prominent dissident, Oswaldo Paya, who founded the Varela Project, and Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation, said their houses were under constant surveillance.
State security agents on Thursday evening also detained Hector Palacios, a leading organizer of the Varela Project reform effort, after an extensive search of his home, said Mr. Sanchez.
The project collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition urging a democratic elections and other reforms.
In Geneva, the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, yesterday publicized the arrests in Cuba and worked to enlist other nations for an international condemnation of Cuban human rights abuses.
"We are working the issue quite vigorously in Geneva," said Charles Barclay, State Department spokesman for the Western Hemisphere.
He said that despite the war in Iraq, which the Cuban government wanted to use as a cover for its activities, other delegations are aware of what is happening in Cuba.
"It is less difficult that you might imagine to get other countries to focus on Cuba," he said.
Another State Department official said on the condition of anonymity, that Peru, Uruguay and Costa Rica were sponsoring a measure to condemn Cuba. On Thursday the French Foreign Ministry denounced the arrests and the European Union is expected to issue a statement soon.
Many of those arrested are accused of meeting with U.S. diplomats in Cuba.
"We intend to continue engaging Cubans as part of the president's policy and we will continue to give meaning to that policy on the ground," said the State Department official.
The American Society of Newspaper Editors, which took a large delegation of U.S. editors to Cuba in October, also denounced the arrests of journalists.
"We are shocked to learn that many independent Cuban journalists, who we count as both colleagues and friends, have been subjected to intimidation, searches and seizures, arrest and detention in your country," said the letter addressed to Felipe Perez Roque, Cuba's foreign minister.
It was not clear whether Mr. Roque had received the letter. He was in Moscow yesterday, trying to strengthen relations with Cuba's former patron.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also denounced the arrests.
"CPJ condemns the Cuban government repression of independent media," Joel Simon, CPJ acting director said in a statement.
CPJ said that reporters' homes were being searched and fax machines, printers and computers were being confiscated.

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