The trial of Vladimiro Roca, son of the late Cuban Communist Party leader Blas Roca, was seen as a test of how far the government is willing to bend to international opinion on rights issues while maintaining its new tough stance toward opposition.
Roca's conviction and sentence were announced during the Monday midday news.
``It is wrong, it is unjust,'' said Roca's wife, Magaly de Armas, who learned of her husband's sentence on the government news. ``They didn't even call.''
``We are going to appeal immediately,'' she added.
A five-member tribunal tried Roca, a former military pilot, and three others behind closed doors the first week of March. It sentenced lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano and engineer Felix Bonne to four years each, and gave economist Marta Beatriz Roque 3 1/2 years, government television said.
The ruling could have international repercussions for Cuba, which has worked to improve its ties with other nations, particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America. Canada, the Vatican and several European nations have urged Cuba to free the four dissidents.
President Clinton called for the dissidents' immediate release, saying he was ``deeply disappointed'' at the sentencing of ``courageous'' human rights activists.
``They did nothing more than assert their right to speak freely about their country's future, call on their government to respect basic human rights, and seek a peaceful transition to democracy for the long-suffering Cuban people,'' Clinton said in a prepared statement.
``They were tried without fair process, behind closed doors.''
Secretary of State Madeline Albright SAID the trial took place without the most elemental features of due process. ``It violated the very concept of the rule of law,'' she said.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said the sentences would cause Canada to ``review the range of our bilateral relations'' with Cuba.
``Cuba sends an unfortunate signal to her friends in the international community when people are jailed for peaceful protest,'' Chretien said in a statement.
Communist officials insist there are no political prisoners on this island nation of 11 million people, only those jailed for common crimes. They reject the characterization of the four dissidents as prisoners of conscience.
The four were arrested in July 1997 for criticizing a Communist Party document. They were also accused of encouraging Cubans not to vote in that year's elections, holding two news conferences with foreign media, exhorting foreign businessmen not to invest in Cuba, and asking Cuban exiles to encourage their kin on the island to undertake acts of civil disobedience.
A report after the trial accused the four of receiving financial and material support from organizations in the United States and using U.S.-based media, especially in Miami, and the U.S. government's Radio Marti, ``to encourage civil disobedience and transgression of current law in Cuba.''
Family members say the four rejected government offers to go into exile rather than face trial.
Scores of the defendants' supporters were temporarily detained before the hearings, evidently to prevent protests.
The verdicts come amid a general toughening by the Cuban government, which says it is under increasing attack from the U.S. government and the Miami-based exile community.
A new law, for the ``Protection of National Independence and Economy,'' penalizes those who work with the foreign press to promote the U.S. embargo or efforts to change Cuba's political system. In publishing the law in the National Gazette on Monday, the government clarified that it would not punish accredited foreign correspondents.
Also Monday, the government launched the second of two trials charging Salvadoran men of planting bombs in tourism locales. The government claims both were backed by Miami-based Cuban exiles.
By holding the trials amid the current crackdown, the government is underscoring its point about Miami-based attacks.
On trial this week, Otto Rene Rodriguez Llerena was arrested on July 10, 1998, allegedly trying to bring explosives into Havana's international airport. He is also charged with a bomb that caused minor damage to a luxury hotel on Aug. 3, 1997.
The prosecution has recommended 30 years in prison.
Another Salvadoran, Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, was tried last week for six bombings, including one that killed an Italian man. He faces a possible death penalty.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press