February 15, 1999
Web posted at: 11:48 p.m. EST (0448 GMT)
HAVANA (CNN) -- Cuba unveiled a two-pronged crackdown Monday, proposing harsh new penalties for common criminals and political opponents who "collaborate" with the U.S. government.
The planned legislation, which would expand the use of the death penalty and introduce life imprisonment, follows a speech last month by President Fidel Castro in which he pledged to get tough on the growing crime problem on the communist-ruled island.
The new measures against internal subversion also appeared to constitute a defensive and hostile Cuban response to moves announced by U.S. President Bill Clinton last month to modify the long-standing U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.
Meeting in an extraordinary session, the National Assembly considered two new laws aimed at bolstering the legal and security defenses of Cuba's one-party communist system against internal and external threats. The legislation was set to be approved as early as Tuesday.
for embargo 'collaborators'
The bill aimed at subversion cited the need to increase penal defenses against what it said were continuing attempts by the U.S. government to damage Cuba's economy through sanctions and to subvert its political system.
Accusing the U.S. authorities of financing and supporting "counter-revolutionary and annexationist elements inside and outside Cuba," the bill proposed harsh jail terms of up to a maximum of 30 years for those who collaborated with the U.S. government, its agencies or representatives.
The bill specifically referred to the 1996 U.S. Helms- Burton law which sharply tightened the long-standing U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. It also reaffirmed Cuba's rejection of the embargo modifications recently announced by Clinton.
Presented by Washington as an easing of the impact of the embargo for the Cuban people, the recent U.S. measures widened approval for the sending of cash remittances to the island and proposed increased flights. They also proposed licensed sales of U.S. food and farm inputs to nongovernmental Cuban entities.
The Cuban draft law said these U.S. moves "do not signify, as has been publicly announced, any change in (U.S.) policy towards our country, because the intention is to subvert the Revolution and keep intact the iron blockade."
It proposed jail terms of between seven and 30 years for those who supplied or sought information which could be used by the U.S. authorities to apply Helms-Burton sanctions against the Cuban economy or foreign investors.
Also targeted by the draft law was the possession or dissemination of "subversive" literature produced by the U.S. government, and collaboration or relations with radio or TV stations or written publications that sought to assist U.S. attempts to damage or undermine Cuba's economy or society.
Dissidents also would face overwhelming fines and have their belongings confiscated.
These last sections appeared directly aimed at clamping down on the activities on the island of political dissidents and dissident independent journalists who oppose the government by sending critical commentaries and articles to media abroad, especially in the United States.
Death penalty to be
A second bill sought to toughen penalties against an increase in crime, including murders, prostitution and drug-smuggling, which has accompanied the Caribbean island's growing welcome of foreign investment and tourism in recent years.
It proposed the death sentence for serious cases of drug- trafficking, corruption of minors and armed robbery, and recommended life imprisonment for violent robbery and house- breaking and the smuggling out of illegal emigrants.
The death penalty was common in the 1960s and 1970s, but has been rare in the past two decades.
During his January 5 speech celebrating the 40th anniversary of the National Revolutionary Police, Castro called Cuba's growing crime problem a threat to the revolution.
Castro noted Monday that the death penalty has local opponents.
"But we are against the death of the country," he said, to applause from lawmakers. "The country has to be saved. That is an absolute priority."
In recent weeks, two Cuban men convicted of killing a pair of Italian tourists were sentenced to death. The sentence has automatically been appealed to Cuba's Supreme Court.
Once notably free of street crime and violence, Cuba has seen a surge in prostitution, robbery and theft -- even murder -- in recent years.
Amid continuing economic crisis brought on by the collapse of the former Soviet bloc, declining state rations have made it hard for many residents to live on state salaries that average $10 a month.
Meanwhile, new dollar-only stores have opened up, tempting Cubans with quality food, electronics and other products that only few can afford. Thousands have turned to prostitution or theft to get the U.S. dollars needed to buy those things.
"If we don't toughen the repression of this kind of conduct, this could damage our tourism," Attorney-General Juan Escalona told reporters. Tourism has become Cuba's biggest single source of hard currency income.
Since Castro's speech last month, the authorities have sent hundreds of police to the streets to clamp down against all forms of crime and illegal activity, from street hustling to prostitution. They have also launched a recruitment drive for more officers.
Reuters contributed to this report.© 1999 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.