- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

The U.S. government and Cuban dissidents reacted with anger yesterday as the government of Fidel Castro arrested more opponents and threatened to try those in custody for treason.
Oswaldo Paya, Cuba's best-known dissident and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, said the arrests were timed to coincide with the war on Iraq so that the world would not take notice.
Mr. Paya, whose international stature was protecting him from arrest, had organized the Varela Project petition requesting a Cuban referendum on democratic reform.
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation, called the opposition roundup "the most intense repression in recent years."
The U.S. State Department called the 3-day-old crackdown the worst since the "purges" of 1996.
At least a dozen of those rounded up were independent journalists, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.
An official government statement accused the dissidents of "being directly linked to the conspiratorial activities" led by the U.S. mission.
One of Cuba's best-known dissidents, Martha Beatriz Roque, was arrested yesterday, bringing the number of opposition figures picked up in the past three days to at least 75.
The State Department said Wednesday that those arrested either had met with the U.S. Interests Section chief, James Cason, or were organizers of Mr. Paya's Varela Project.
U.S.-Cuba relations have taken such a bad turn that it is feared that Mr. Cason, who is leaving Cuba this weekend to attend his son's wedding, will not be allowed to return.
Mrs. Roque, an economist who was released last year after three years in jail, was arrested again at 6 a.m. yesterday for participating in a liquids-only fast to protest the detention of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Cuba's most prominent black dissident.
Mrs. Roque and several other dissidents had vowed to consume only liquids including yogurt, soup and juices until Dr. Biscet was released.
Dr. Biscet, jailed during a protest in Matanzas Province in December, is a particular irritation to the Cuban regime, which claims to have the full support of Cuban blacks.
The anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which represents a large number of Cuban exiles in Miami, said yesterday the charges of treason are ominous.
"The Cuban government usually doesn't refer to these people at all. Lately it is calling them traitors," Joe Garcia, executive director of CANF, said yesterday. "These people were damaging Castro's reputation."
Opposition activists fear that those arrested will be tried under the much-criticized but never-applied Law Against National Independence, which carries sentences of up to 10 years.
The law, passed in February 1999, made it a crime to publish "subversive" materials provided by the U.S. government.
Mr. Garcia said at least 75 dissidents had been arrested, many of them members of a movement that supported independent public libraries.
He said authorities were searching the libraries and hauling off books like George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and the "U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights" donated by the U.S. government and considered counterrevolutionary by the Castro government.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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