- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s crackdown on political opponents last year has failed to stem protests against the regime,according to a report by a U.S. group.

The report, entitled “Dissenting Voices,” was published by the International Republican Institute (IRI), an organization funded in part by the U.S. government to promote democratic forces and civil society around the globe.

Releasing the report late last week, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and the chairman of IRI, said there was increasing support for Cuba’s dissident movement in Europe and Latin America.

“Dissent in Cuba is alive and well,” Mr. McCain said. “The pro-democracy movement has survived the repression organized by Castro to crush it. It has weathered the storm.”

Roger F. Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said international support for Cuba’s democratic forces was “extraordinarily important” for the people on the island.

“They need to know that most of their brothers in the United States and in the world support their struggle,” he said.

The report details some 59 incidents of protest and dissent in the months since the Castro regime arrested 88 of the island’s most prominent political opponents in March 2003.

In one instance, 40 independent Cuban journalists in June 2003 challenged government restrictions on filing to foreign news outlets. The practice had resulted in jail sentences for 75 dissidents earlier in the year.

The Bush administration last month issued its own report on Cuba, calling for sharp new limits on the time and money Americans can spend when traveling to Cuba. The plan also lays out policy changes in preparation for a post-Castro Cuba.

Critics of the plan say change in Cuba can only come from inside. The plan has stirred mixed reactions among Cuban Americans with relatives on the island.

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