Cuban lawmakers on Tuesday approved setting prison terms of up to 20 years for people convicted of promoting U.S. policy aimed at forcing a change in Fidel Castro's government.
First proposed three years ago in response to the tightening of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, the ``Law for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy'' was unanimously approved by the Cuban parliament late Tuesday.
The law also set fines for those accused of crimes that affect ``the fundamental interests, political or economic'' of Cuba.
Ricardo Alarcon, president of the parliament, said the move ``reaffirms our spirit of resistance and our continued fight to preserve our revolution.''
The crackdown on pro-U.S. dissidence also comes amid a general toughening throughout Cuba's government. Earlier Tuesday, lawmakers revised the penal code to include the death penalty for government officials who engage in drug trafficking and increased sentences for smugglers of illegal aliens.
The new penal code increases Cuba's longest prison sentence from 20 years to 30 years, lengthens terms for repeat offenders and implements the use of life sentences.
A surge in prostitution, robbery and even more violent offenses has alarmed Cuban officials, who describe the crime wave as the most serious threat to Castro's 40-year-old revolution.
Earlier this year, the government beefed up police patrols around the nation's capital and launched a major police recruitment effort. Hundreds of members of the National Revolutionary Police's new special forces now stand guard in tourist areas that until recently were crowded with prostitutes and hustlers.
But the move likely to draw the most attention from abroad is the new law targeting political opponents.
Before the law was passed, lawmakers agreed to Castro's proposal to reduce from 30 to 20 years the maximum prison limit for those convicted under the new law.
Castro also proposed to ``eliminate whatever part of the text that could be interpreted as saying that in Cuba someone could be sanctioned for the mere act of dissent,'' the Cuba news agency Prensa Latina said.
The new tough measures are aimed especially at independent Cuban journalists, many of whom are in regular contact with the U.S. government's Radio Marti, which opposes the Castro government.
The measures would ban the introduction of ``subversive'' materials into the country, along with the importation of equipment designed to disseminate such information. It also restricts collaboration with the news media if such work furthers the trade embargo, or related U.S policy toward Cuba.
The move comes a little more than a month after President Clinton announced measures designed to increase contact between the American and Cuban people while maintaining the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
Cuban officials were infuriated by Clinton's proposal, which they said did nothing to ease the sanctions.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press